Sarkozy's party defeated in regional elections

Socialist party leader lauds "unprecedented victory" for left-wing alliance.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party has been heavily defeated in the regional elections.

Over 97 per cent of the votes have now been counted. The opposition left-wing alliance, led by socialists and ecologists, has 52 per cent of the vote, while the centre-right UMP has just 35 per cent.

This leaves the UMP in control of just one of France's 22 regions, Alsace in the east.

Prime minister Francois Fillon is expected to offer his resignation. "I assume my share of the responsibility," he said.

Socialist party leader Martine Aubry said: "The French people have tonight given an unprecedented victory to the alliance of the left.

"[They have] expressed their rejection of the policies of the president and his government."

The elections are the last major electoral test in France before the presidential election in 2012. Although the election was on local governance, some commentators have viewed it as a referendum on Sarkozy's leadership. His approval ratings are currently at an all-time low.

Sarkozy's chief of staff Claude Gueant said that the president would embark on a "modest reshuffle" following the results.


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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.