David Miliband lashes coalition over position on Europe

Splits between Lib Dems and Tories dramatically exposed.

From the Commons chamber:

David Miliband, the shadow foreign secretary and front-runner in the Labour leadership, is currently taking apart the Europe policy of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition.

Earlier, William Hague, the new Foreign Secretary, tried to ridicule Miliband by saying that "the situation has changed" and that Miliband will have to "agree" with him over various cross-party issues.

But on Europe, Miliband did not hold back, pointing out that the Deputy Prime Minister himself, Nick Clegg, has called the Tories' new EU allies "nutters". He also quoted the Hague describing the Lib Dems as "fanatical federalists".

Finally, Miliband said that while the Foreign Secretary was good at "jokes", his new job would, "for the first time in a long time", require him to have "judgement".

Miliband's contribution has just been described as a "leadership speech" by Ming Campbell. That is unfair, because Miliband has offered similar messages repeatedly in recent years.

But there is no doubt that he has just shown -- with the force of his argument and his ability to take apart this rather awkwardly balanced coalition -- why he is front-runner to lead Labour and take on the Cameron-led government.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.