Osborne plays the class card

A first glimpse of a new Tory strategy on class.

It's often said that George Osborne is much better at politics than he is at economics and he proved as much on The Andrew Marr Show this morning.

His fellow guest Harriet Harman attempted to catch him off-guard by asking if he ever fancied replacing David Cameron as leader. Osborne dismissed the question and responded: "We went to the same school [St Paul's]. They were always like this! Those Paulinas, so aggressive."

The pair may never have shared so much as a maths class (Osborne wasn't born when Harman left school), but the shadow chancellor's words offered a first glimpse of a strategy we can expect the Tories to return to ahead of the election.

Their argument goes like this: "Yes, we may be privileged toffs, but don't overlook those sitting on the Labour benches." Conveniently for the Tories, several of those (falsely) accused of waging "class war", notably Harman and Ed Balls, were privately educated.

It's no coincidence that this new strategy follows a Guardian/ICM poll showing the Tories are increasingly seen as the party of the upper classes. Given that in recent times the Tories have been led by individuals from modest or even "common" backgrounds (Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Michael Howard), Cameron is more sensitive to this charge than one might expect.

But since the political class as a whole appears so remote from voters I doubt either party will be the winner from this phoney "class war".


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George Eaton is political 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.