Cameron v Brown: the video war

Who will win the contest for Most Convincing International Statesman?

Ah, the joys of new media. And, more to the point, politicians doing new media. And, even more to the point (I am so near the point now I can nearly touch it), politicians competing with each other on who can do new media better.

"This is how to CONNECT," I hear them cry from the bunkers of Westminster. "We will talk straight into their homes. It will be like being IN their homes. They will become our friends!"

And so to two recent offerings from Teams Brown and Cameron, or in their YouTube guises: webcamerontv and Number10. This time they have taken the cameras to Afghanistan: it's the Battle of the International Statesmen.



Spot the difference: Brown wears a smart suit whereas Cameron wants to show he's down with the troops and sports a bullet-proof contraption. (Although once he's talking to the troops he's back in his Oxfordshire-constituency-roaring-British-fires woolly jumper which rather undermines the pervious hardman look.)

Other highlights: Brown trying to banter with heroically patient troops; the soldier standing behind Cameron whose eyes keep veering to the left; Cameron's weird "opposition" joke (I suspect there was a Conservative Party New Media recruit brought along for the ride to hold up a sign saying "Laugh now please, if you would" at appropriate moments.)

The winner? On video views, Cameron by a mile. On statesmanlike dignity? The troops. For gamely tolerating the whole thing.


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.