Belfast Telegraph

Sheen praised for NHS defence

He has amassed dozens of awards for his acting roles, but Michael Sheen has found himself on the receiving end of unprecedented praise for playing himself after delivering a rousing speech in defence of the NHS.

The Hollywood star gave the impassioned performance as he took part in a rally in Tredegar, South Wales, during a drizzling St David's Day on Sunday.

Sheen, who has played Tony Blair on screen twice, attacked politicians from all parties for being too "careful, tentative, scared of saying what they feel for fear of alienating a part of the electorate".

Many used Twitter to heap praise on the Welshman, including Labour MP Diane Abbott, who posted a link to his "brilliant speech".

Comedian Wil Anderson wrote: "If only politicians defended the people they represent with this sort of passion." Musician Peter Hooton said Sheen "shows politicians how it's done".

Paul Evans, director of campaign group NHS Support Federation, said it was great to see someone with such a public profile discussing the issue.

"Michael Sheen helps to highlight one essential truth that the NHS won't survive if we continue to put the market at its heart," he said.

"We are approaching a big moment in its history as the public have the chance to tell politicians to turn their backs on this idea.

"It's good to see somebody express an honest view on the NHS as it's so constantly caught up in an atmosphere of political intrigue that often the public don't get to see a clear view of what is happening.

"Hopefully this is something that we will see more over the next few weeks and months ahead of the election, as we really need to see an honest debate, something which clearly sets out what the NHS is likely to become like in the next few years."

In his speech, Sheen criticised a situation where, "under the excuse of trying to appear electable, all parties drift into a morass of bland neutrality and the real deals, the real values, we suspect, are kept behind closed doors".

"When people are too scared to say what they really mean, when they're too careful to speak from their hearts, when integrity is too much of a risk, it's no surprise that people feel disengaged with politics," he said.

"There is never an excuse to not speak up for what you think is right. You must stand up for what you believe, but first of all, by God, believe in something."

Quoting NHS founder Aneurin Bevan, he added: "We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road - they get run down."

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