Brown's scourge: He hates the NHS and loves Iceland
Daniel Hannan was hailed for his 'brave' attack on the Prime Minister that became a YouTube sensation. But the Tory MEP's eccentric views are an embarrassment to his own party, reports Andy McSmith
Saturday 11 April 2009
In the warm afterglow of the G20 summit, Conservative Central Office has struggled to lay many telling blows on Gordon Brown. Instead, spectators might be forgiven for thinking the role of the Prime Minister's tormentor-in-chief has passed to the balding, middle-aged son of an Anglo-Peruvian farmer based in Brussels and Strasbourg.
Daniel Hannan might not be an obvious star of cyberspace but that is precisely what the cerebral Conservative member of the European Parliament became after he was handed the opportunity to spend three minutes lambasting Mr Brown as the "devalued Prime Minister of a devalued government".
The broadside was largely ignored by the British media but a YouTube recording of the speech has notched up more than two million hits, making it one of the most-watched political speeches of the year. To boot, he has become a darling of rightwing American commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, who praised the Briton for his political "bravery".
Similar praise of David Cameron, who does not count Mr Hannan among his party's spokesmen, has been conspicuous by its absence.
But just as the new follicularly-challenged star of the right has been made by the internet, so it might be his undoing. Bloggers have picked over Mr Hannan's record and uncovered views which sit uncomfortably with those of his party. While Mr Cameron has been forthright in support of the NHS, the self-styled "Tory maverick" has taken the airwaves to make it clear he is less enamoured.
Mr Hannan denies he is basking in his status. He told The Independent: "I hate it. I'm not a natural politician. I was happier writing books." Such an aversion sits uneasily with an appearance on Fox News, prompted by his recent celebrity, in which Mr Hannan suggested the NHS had made Britons more unwell.
He said: "We've lived through this mistake for 60 years. The reality is it hasn't worked. It's made people iller. We spend a lot of money and we get very bad results, you look at survival rates for cancer or for heart disease we are well down. We have very few doctors ... A lot of our best and brightest doctors emigrate."
Mr Hannan's speech to the Strasbourg parliament was treated as a major event by commentators in the US. The Republican right loathes Barack Obama, and by extension despises Gordon Brown for being on the same side of the argument on the recession. Mr Hannan is their idea of a British voice of sanity.
On his blog Mr Hannan went on to imply that the existence of the NHS prevents the wealthy buying private health care. "There is no health system in Europe or North America that leaves the indigent untended," he claimed. "What is at issue is not whether we force poor people to pay, but whether we prevent wealthier people from doing so."
Such invective is perhaps unsurprising from a politician who issued a 10-step manifesto "to revolutionise the British state" in his column in The Daily Telegraph. Among his suggestions are Britain's immediate resignation from the EU, the scrapping of the Human Rights Act, the right for parents to take their children out of state schools along with a "financial entitlement" to spend elsewhere and private funds for people who want to opt out of the NHS.
If Britain is so terrible, then which country does Mr Hannan admire? Iceland, where he spent his stag night. In 2004, Mr Hannan wrote a polemic in The Spectator magazine praising the country for pursuing a "Thatcherite agenda that is off limits to EU members". He added: "That attitude has made them the happiest, freest and wealthiest people on earth." The fact that Iceland's binge on cheap debt has left its financial system bankrupt and seeking entry to the EU has done little to dim his enthusiasm. In a recent blog, Mr Hannan wrote: "Don't do it Iceland. Your current status gives you the best of all worlds. It made you rich and free."
None of this dovetails well with David Cameron's attempts to present a softer image of the Conservative Party, but Hannan has never been a mainstream Conservative.
His background is unusual. He was born in Lima in 1971. His father was an Anglo-Peruvian farmer, and his mother worked for the Foreign Office. One anecdote relates the MEP's insistence on wearing a tie and three-piece suit while baking in the Peruvian sun on a visit to his family. When asked why, he said to have replied: "We have to show the natives we aren't afraid of a bit of weather."
A libertarian, he nonetheless has a mix of views that might spoil his reputation on the American right.
For instance, he backed Obama in the election. He opposed the Iraq war and supported gay rights long before it was Tory party policy. He is, also close to being a genuine do-nothing Tory – the taunt Gordon Brown has thrown at Cameron.
Mr Hannan said: "The most pernicious phrase in politics is 'Doing nothing is not an option'. It's almost never true. People are paralysed by the fear that they will look as if they are not on top of events. I don't mean literally that you do nothing – I mean don't try to fend off a recession that you can't fend off. If you look back at the last six months, I think that has been vindicated."
Ironically, it is the Labour Party who have been tirelessly spreading the word about him. The former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, stood outside the Department of Health to shoot a podcast pointing out Hannan's views on the NHS.
Michael Cashman, a Labour MEP, said: "[Hannan's] are the views David Cameron is trying to appease. He represents the fact that the Conservative Party has not changed. It is returning to its unpleasant roots."
But Daniel Johnson, editor of Standpoint magazine and a friend of Hannan, denies that he speaks for Cameron. "Daniel represents a different and very dynamic strand within the Tory party. He is not afraid of anything, and he will tear into these shibboleths and taboos. We need more politicians like him."
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