9/11 memories: Jason Burke

We asked a journalist: where were you on 9/11?

I'd been travelling in Algeria but was back in the office at the Observer on the day. I remember standing next to Paul Webster, the deputy editor, watching the television, seeing the second plane go in, and turning to Paul and saying, "That's Bin Laden." He said, "How do you know?" and I said, "I can't think of anybody else who would do it." So he said, "Well, you'd better get a satellite phone and some money and get a plane." Which is what I did, to Peshawar.

Like anybody, I could not compute what was happening. I remember the sight of the second skyscraper going down, and people in the office reacting very strongly. I still was not in a reactive mode: I was incapable of relating what I was seeing to something that was happening. I remember going home to get my stuff to go to the airport, and having great difficulty processing the information. It took a long time. I still watch the pictures and feel the same thing.

I was away for three months. I was in Pakistan for a while, then Afghanistan, and came straight out from Kabul to merry scenes of B-52s bombing a hillside in Afghanistan. I got back to the office in mid-December, on the day of the Christmas party - it was very strange trying to compute that as well.

Next: Sherard Cowper-Coles

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This article first appeared in the 05 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, 9/11

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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.