Michael Sheen tells politicians "believe in something"

By Lucy Ballinger
BBC Wales News

media captionMichael Sheen gives speech at NHS march

As Michael Sheen is applauded for delivering a passionate political speech to a pro-NHS march on St David's Day, could he follow in the footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Eddie Izzard and become the next celebrity to turn to politics?

He is no stranger to delivering stirring political speeches, having starred as Tony Blair in dramas about the former prime minister.

But Michael Sheen seemed to have struck a chord with some social media users with hundreds lauding him as an upcoming face in politics himself after delivering a rousing speech at a march pleading politicians "by God, believe in something".

Addressing marchers as they stood in the rain, he criticised politicians for being "too disconnected".

The St David's Day in Tredegar march was held to celebrate the founder of the NHS, Aneurin Bevan.

The 1 March event was organised by 999NHSTredegar in conjunction with the People's Vote for the NHS.

image copyrightLucy Ballinger

Quoting Bevan at length Sheen delivered a passionate defence of the health service.

Sheen asked: "Do we want to be a society where each person is recognised? Where all are equal in worth and value. And where that value is not purely a monetary one. A society that is supportive, that is inclusive and compassionate."

He added: "At a time now, when people mistrust politicians as being too professional, too disconnected, no longer representing the voice of the people they have been elected to serve but more likely to represent the voice of wherever the money is. No longer standing for anything meaningful, or inspired by strongly held beliefs."

image copyrightLucy Ballinger

Footage of his speech took social media, in particular Twitter by storm, with some people calling for him to enter politics.

Celebrities including Sheen's girlfriend comedienne Sarah Silverman, writer Caitlin Moran, author Mark Haddon and best-selling fantasy author Neil Gaiman took to Twitter in support of the actor.

image copyrightTwitter

Port Talbot-raised Sheen has starred as Tony Blair alongside Helen Mirren in film The Queen, and also in The Deal and The Special Relationship.

The father-of-one, who now lives in Los Angeles, joined the march after visiting Tredegar for his BBC Wales programme Valleys Rebellion looking at political disillusionment in Wales.

image copyrightLucy Ballinger

He is the latest in a long line of celebrities to dip their toes into politics.

Comedian Eddie Izzard has previously stated his desire to run for London Mayor as Labours candidate or as an MEP or MP in 2020.

In America Arnold Schwarzenegger was Governor of California for seven years after being elected in 2003.

image copyrightREX
image captionMichael Sheen as Tony Blair alongside Helen McCrory as wife Cherie in The Queen

Austrian-born Schwarzenegger, a former Mr Universe, world-class bodybuilder and Hollywood action star, stormed into office as the 38th governor of California in a special recall election.

image copyrightTracey Paddison/REX

Excerpt from Sheen's speech

In today's political climate, where politicians are careful, tentative, scared of saying what they feel for fear of alienating a part of the electorate; 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 - is it any wonder that people feel there is very little to choose between?

Bevan said: "We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down."

So 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.

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.

Then BBC journalist Martin Bell announced 24 days before the 1997 general election he was leaving the BBC to enter politics.

His legendary fight for the safe Conservative seat at Tatton, on an independent, anti-corruption ticket, made him a symbol of the revolt against perceived sleaze in the governing Conservative Party. He won the seat with an 11,000 majority.

image copyrightAP
image captionThen California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped down after seven years in office

Describing himself as an "accidental MP", Martin Bell was persuaded to run again in the 2001 election, this time for Brentwood and Ongar, in Essex - another constituency where the sitting Conservative MP, Eric Pickles, was at the centre of controversy. He did not win the seat on that occasion.

On a more local level Rhys Hutchins, formerly of Newport rap group Goldie Lookin' Chain (GLC) became a Labour councillor in the city's St Julians ward in 2012.

He said at the time: "It just opened my eyes to the fact that we can make a difference, people can run for council, get in and make a difference."

But celebrities regularly find themselves involved in politics, without standing for office.

In 2014, a collection of celebrities including Matthew Rhys, Damien Lewis, Katherine Jenkins, Bryn Terfel and Colin Jackson recorded messages of welcome to US President Barack Obama as he prepared to visit Wales for the Nato summit.

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