Brown’s admission of defeat will cost him

Voters like to back a winner. It was foolish of Brown to predict a Tory victory.

The most telling moment in last night's debate came when Gordon Brown conceded:

I know that if things stay as they are, perhaps in eight days' time David Cameron, perhaps supported by Nick Clegg, would be in office.

This was probably intended to alarm voters (the man who would wreck the economy and slash public services could soon be prime minister), but it sounded like an admission of defeat.

It was also a remarkably ill-judged statement. Like Rupert Murdoch, voters like to back a winner. By admitting that Cameron is set to enter Downing Street on 7 May, Brown has made it all the more likely that he will.

Few voters pay close attention to the opinion polls, but the idea that Cameron is leading a government-in-waiting was in effect endorsed by Brown.

Even the most amateur politician knows to stick to the line that: "There's only one poll that counts, and that's on election day." Brown's decision to break with form and prejudge the outcome of the election must have had Labour strategists hanging their heads in despair.

It's far from unthinkable that Labour could rally and, due to the vagaries of the voting system, emerge as the single largest party. But last night Brown made that outcome all the more unlikely.

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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.