Why shouldn’t we criticise the angry NHS dad?

He was engaging in a political act in a public place – we’re allowed to debate that.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill


There’s a dark irony in the angry NHS dad controversy. This was meant to be a story about how cruel and uncaring the Tories are. But it has morphed at warp speed into an exposé of the crabbiness and intolerance of the virtual left. Boris Johnson comes out of this weird scandal smelling of roses in comparison with the army of dad-sympathising tweeters and activists whose emotionalist authoritarianism has been on stark display these past 24 hours.

It started life as the tale of a nameless dad with a sick kid accosting Boris as he visited Whipps Cross Hospital in London. ‘The NHS has been destroyed!’, dad shouted. But it quickly became a story about other things. First about Boris denying the man’s claims that he was only visiting the hospital for a photo op. ‘There’s no press here’, said Boris, leading dad to gesture at the cameras that were filming their confrontation.

Then it became a story about the dad himself, who turned out to be one Omar Salem, a Labour activist and an anti-Brexit campaigner. Suddenly the run-in between an ordinary dad and the PM started to feel like something rather different: like a political act, a little staged, a bit of a campaigning stunt.

And then it became a story about the BBC and in particular about Laura Kuenssberg, the Beeb’s political editor. Kuenssberg revealed he was a Labour activist and said ‘This is him here’ as she quote-tweeted his own account of what happened. Cue unhinged meltdown among Twitter Corbynistas and Labourite hotheads. They accused Kuenssberg, and tabloid outlets too, of doxxing the dad, of unleashing a dog-pile against him, of doing Boris’s bidding by publicly shaming the man who questioned him about the NHS. #SackLauraKuenssberg started trending. She was subjected to ceaseless invective.

And lo, the alleged cruelty of the Tories vis-à-vis their handling of the NHS was eclipsed – and how! – by the cruelty of a leftish Twitch-hunt against a journalist for doing her job. For revealing facts. For reporting the details of something striking that happened in the public sphere, including the details of Salem’s identity and his pro-Corbyn, anti-Brexit activism.

These facts are unquestionably in the public interest. Kuenssberg did nothing wrong in revealing them. The barking intolerance hurled at her for having done so speaks to the chillingly unforgiving attitude among the new left in relation to any media outlet that publishes things that run counter to its own narrow worldview.

The whole thing has ended up shining a light not on the Tories’ ‘destruction’ of the NHS (funding for the NHS has risen in real terms every year since 2010), but on the quite nasty new politics of the online left.

It confirms that they now prefer to weaponise emotion rather than put forward rational arguments, as evidenced by their pushing of ‘angry dad’ to shame the Tories. It shows that they cynically think that such weaponised emotion eclipses everything else, including basic facts about NHS funding. It suggests they think they are above criticism, and even above being named, as confirmed by their rash reaction to the exposure of Salem’s identity and the criticism of what he said to Boris (some of which was wrong).

And it suggests that we are now witnessing the rise of fury-signalling, an ugly complement to virtue-signalling, where shouting at politicians in front of TV cameras becomes a way of pushing both yourself and your ideas into the public sphere in a quite emotionalist and unaccountable way. We are likely to see more such incidents of these 15 minutes of fame and fury.

Public debate is in urgent need of improvement. The left is wrong to harass and demonise Kuenssberg over this incident. Right-wingers are wrong to aim all their ire at Salem. But everyone needs to realise that if you engage in a political act in a public place, you will be named and you will be criticised. That’s how politics works.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Peter Gardner

23rd September 2019 at 8:49 am

Good heavens above, Brendan O’Neill, you’ll be asking for common sense, next. There are limits, you know.

Phil Ford

20th September 2019 at 6:48 am

At the risk of sounding like I’m virtue-signaling myself, I will say I don’t always agree with Ms. Kuenssberg, but I have always thought highly of her as a journalist. Her reporting often challenges my own political biases – and long may it continue. These attacks on her are reprehensible.

Melissa Jackson

20th September 2019 at 1:29 pm

It’s worth pointing out that she was acting very much in the public interest by providing some information on who the man was. It added crucial context to the story. Had the gentleman turned out to be a lifelong Tory voter and Boris supporter, it would have hugely changed how we perceived his actions. But he wasn’t.

If a journalist cannot release information in the public interest, which is literally the only function of value they have, then what is left for them to do? Produce propaganda?

The Angry Brigade

19th September 2019 at 10:41 pm

What is the problem here? Day after day you put out angry invective, and your legitimation of it is that it is justified in response to the injustice of Remoaners. You say the majority should be deferred to, except on every issue where you don’t think it should be. This is the same thing, from a different side. You undercut its foundations at your peril. And you reveal the hollowness of your neutrality in doing so: you are nothing more than a common Tory, one with enough erudition to make prolonged pleas for the cause of the establishment, with the style to do it with a radical flourish.

Jerry Owen

20th September 2019 at 11:44 pm

The angry brigade… Pretty much sums you up ! Don’t worry puberty does end , yours may take a little longer though !

Sandy Robertson

19th September 2019 at 10:11 pm

Hypocrisy for the left to say an activist can’t be criticised for ranting at a politician in public when they’re usually all for actually punishing those who called Anna Soubry et al Nazis.

Anthony Jaynes

19th September 2019 at 9:31 pm

“Boris Johnson comes out of this weird scandal smelling of roses”

You make a joke no. Mr Johnson said on camera, there was no press present. If Mr Johnson is prepared to say a bare faced lie on camera, one must question what he says off camera.

Ven Oods

19th September 2019 at 8:01 pm

Kuenssberg isn’t among my favourite talking news-heads, but I’m on her side on this one.

Jerry Owen

19th September 2019 at 4:56 pm

If the NHS is so broken why do we still have such a successful health tourism trade ?

Amin Readh

20th September 2019 at 4:32 am

Put these two words together:


As per, you are full of sh*t.

Jerry Owen

20th September 2019 at 8:36 am

Such eloquence.

Davy Hayes

19th September 2019 at 4:52 pm

Second video emerged, showing NHS staff applauding and cheering the Prime Minister, seems the actual WORKERS have a different outlook…

Ed Turnbull

19th September 2019 at 12:26 pm

Kuenssberg was attacked because she has the temerity to use Realfacts. She clearly forgot that in today’s woke, progressive world only Goodfacts are acceptable.

And the comment (assuming it’s been paroled from mod limbo) I made on the eco-anxiety thread applies here: the use of children for political purposes was something quite common in certain totalitarian regimes of yore. Disturbing to see it making a comeback.


19th September 2019 at 5:52 pm

I agree. I identified the ‘magic word’ some years ago, observing the propensity to use it when someone was determined to ‘get their way’ regardless of how poorly founded, irrelevant or plain wrong their mission was. Often through the years I’ve found myself thinking: “u-ho there it is. Wondered when the magic word would appear”. The magic word? “children”

Neil John

19th September 2019 at 11:43 am

To hear that Laura Kuenssberg is the target of such ire from the leftist remain camp twatisphere, given her usual output on the subject of Brexit, is a bittersweet pleasure. Though the anti Brexit Brainwashing Collusionists output on the overall subject this morning will have countered any illusion that they are pro-Brexit.

Amin Readh

20th September 2019 at 4:33 am

What are you on about? She is pro Brexit.

Jerry Owen

20th September 2019 at 6:22 pm

Examples of her pro Brexit beliefs then ?
You haven’t got any have you ?

Jerry Owen

21st September 2019 at 12:05 am

Well ?

Jim Lawrie

19th September 2019 at 10:55 am

This “dad” worked full time for a Labour politician for 2½ years.
An adult male who hides behind his child is no mensch.

Boris Johnson is constantly being set up like this. And slandered from the safety of a court.

Mr O’Neill is correct to draw attention to the fact that this is the opposite of political debate.

It is yet another instance of the public being assumed as too stupid to see things for what they are – in this case an ambush. With the twаtter mob on hand for the mopping up operations.

James Walker

19th September 2019 at 11:01 am

“……An adult male who hides behind his child is no mensch….”

Spot on.

Danny Rees

19th September 2019 at 12:32 pm

Oh come on Boris is the Prime Minister of this country, portraying elected political leaders with massive levels of power as victims is just silly.

Jim Lawrie

19th September 2019 at 8:22 pm

The article is not about Boris, it is about the unworthy tactics of his opponents. I did not say he was a victim. I was highlighting that his opponents are cowards, sniping from sanctuary.

Michael Lynch

19th September 2019 at 10:54 am

Yet another set up job.

Bella Donna

19th September 2019 at 10:30 am

1. The man was a Labour activist plant.
2. His story wasn’t verified.
3. If indeed it was true and his daughter was ill and in that hospital, the fact she didn’t die therefore proves the NHS is working which gives lie to his claims.

James Walker

19th September 2019 at 11:02 am

Will you please stop using facts to make political points?!?


19th September 2019 at 12:01 pm

Don’t be concerned James, the Emotional will be along to nullify and bury any facts within a mile soon, no doubt dressed head to toe in white radioativity proof suits.

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