I must confess, the ‘we love the NHS’ campaign, organised to respond to American criticism of the institution, makes me vaguely queasy. Gordon Brown has joined the Twitter group, of course, in another ill advised foray into internet campaigning. Iain Dale has posted rather effectively on the topic, arguing that it is ‘puerile’ to claim ‘love’ for a public service.
Don’t misunderstand me. Reactionary voices in the US, which contend that the NHS is ‘evil’ and resist any move towards state funded health provision, make me even more bilious. I understand the reflex to defend our health service.
But there’s more than a little impulsive nationalism to this popular response to American criticism and there's a distinct whiff of populist opportunism where politicians seek to clamber on board the band wagon.
Everyone has experiences of the NHS, and many of them are good, but few would contend that the service is perfect. We have reason to be proud that health care is available, free of charge, to everyone in Britain, but there is little room to be uncritical and even less to be complacent.
David Cameron has also defended the NHS, against an attack by Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan. The Conservative leader is justified in knocking back the type of hard-line free market libertarian doctrines which make Hannan popular in the US. Particularly because Cameron has consistently emphasised the pivotal role commitment to the health service plays in his socially aware brand of conservatism.
Manifestly, however, the desire of both party leaders should be to ensure that the NHS works as well as it possibly can, rather than becoming involved in an irrelevant debate about its existence.