Stop the press! Save the cottage!

What really matters in life

A bold subheading. Especially when you see the article I'm about to link to. It seems I'm arguing that "what really matters in life" is small abandoned thatched cottages in Galway, which is a strange position to adopt, given everything else that's going on in the world at the moment.

But I am not one to be deterred once a campaign has been brought to my attention. And why should a decaying cottage not garner as much attention as Copenhagen/Iran/electoral reform? Yes, I can also think of around four hundred reasons why, but I'm going to stick with this one, dammit.

So, good luck, Galway. Save that cottage and its little windows. And save the thatch, too, obviously. If small cottages like that didn't have newspapers like you, o Galway News, standing up for them, God only knows what might happen. It might be the end of all quaint cottages! Of all picturesque scenes. Of all Constable-inspired coach tours. The ramifications are endless and terrifying.

Seriously, people. MOBILISE. Let's see some Cottage Camp swoops on the Houses of Parliament and protesters thatching the roof of Buckingham Palace to make their point. We need to show the world at large that this cottage is not going to die quietly. No indeed.


Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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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.