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Q&A: Nicholas Mosley

You are often described as a novelist of ideas. Do you recognise yourself in that description?

I prefer to say that I write about people who have ideas. And I certainly think that ideas are what differentiate us from the rest of the animal world.

For instance, Adam, the protagonist in your new novel God’s Hazard, is obsessed by the problem of free will and tries to reimagine the God of the Old Testament.

That’s right. I use Adam to put over some questions of my own. It struck me many years ago how extraordinarily unpleasant we make all our gods. And even after I became a practising Christian after the Second World War, I remained obsessed with the question why the Old Testament God is so odious – in fact, he’s one of the most unpleasant characters in fiction. I don’t feel much personal relationship with God the Father, an old man up in the sky. And in a world that is dominated by this vengeful father, free will doesn’t make much sense. But I wanted to see how the notion does make sense.

Did you conceive your memoir Paradoxes of Peace as an accompaniment to the novel? It is a very powerful record of your coming to religious faith.

I did. I went to and fro between the two books as I was writing them. As a young man, I had some rather conventional misgivings about Christianity – especially the Atonement. How did God the Father think he could make things better by getting his son to suffer the worst kind of evil? I’ve always found that hard.

What role did your father Sir Oswald Mosley play in all this? You describe his disappointment when you announced you wanted to be a novelist rather than a philosopher.

When I was a young man, I had all the usual adolescent anxieties about the meaning of life. And he, though he was in his fifties by then, still had them too. He was like a child in that respect. He was always interested and open-minded about this unfashionable thing called “the meaning of life”.

How did you reconcile the sceptical, inquiring father you knew with the public embodiment of ideological certainty?

Even though I was enormously influenced by my father when I was young, I always thought his politics were wrong, crazy. The first public speech I heard him give in the 1930s – I must have been ten or 11 – I found completely insane. It was in Hyde Park. The anti-fascists came marching down Bayswater, shouting slogans and singing anti-fascist songs, and there was a police auto-gyro hovering overhead, so no one could hear what he said anyway.

On several occasions, you describe your father’s politics as “self-destructive” and you portray him as inhabited by a malevolent force bigger than himself.

That’s exactly how I see it. Remember that after the war, he went back into politics. He went into Notting Hill to stir up feeling against the blacks. When he got up on top of a speaker van he was like someone possessed. He was in the grip of a kind of addiction and it didn’t do him any good. He really thought he was going to get elected as an independent, but when the vote came, he lost his deposit. I told him he was destroying himself. He said he’d never speak to me again. But at the end of his life I was one of the few people he wanted to talk to. I think he realised he was some sort of junkie, a rhetoric junkie. It wasn’t about power. If it had been power he was interested in, all he needed to do was stay in the Labour Party, tell a few lies and he’d have become leader.

“God’s Hazard” and “Paradoxes of Peace” by Nicholas Mosley are published by Dalkey Archive Press (both at £10.99)

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Rock bottom

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.