CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Nick Clegg held on in a gripping debate. This will go to the wire (Guardian)

David Cameron and Gordon Brown both went up a gear in last night's televised debate, says Martin Kettle, but Nick Clegg impressively consolidated his performance. TheLib Dems are in it to the finish.

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2. Voters have waited for this for years (Times)

Policies and ties don't matter, argues David Aaronovitch. Whether this perception is accurate or not, Clegg represents the break from stale two-party politics that many crave.

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3. The forces blocking British democracy (Independent)

Cameron is concealing his real agenda of tax cuts for the rich and lower public spending, because the polling and focus groups indicate that the public will loathe it. That's why his performances in this campaign are so stilted, says Johann Hari.

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4. Britain's election debate is rewriting the political rules (Financial Times)

No-one knows what the outcome of the election will be, says Philip Stephens. The campaign is now about what voters think of politics and politicians.

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5. Who's afraid of a big bad hung Parliament? (Times)

Only in Britain are coalition or minority governments seen as dangerous. Peter Riddell advises that we look abroad to see how they can work.

6. Being patriotic doesn't make you a fascist (Daily Telegraph)

Billy Bragg -- fresh from a clash with a BNP member in Barking -- discusses the rise of the far right. Without its own parliament, it is no wonder that England's nationalism has been hijacked.

7. Danger lurks everywhere. Let the pilots handle ash (Guardian)

Simon Jenkins criticises the response to the volcanic ash cloud. As with terrorism, swine flu and now aviation, the scientists offer absolutes rather than probabilities and the authorities panic.

8. The sad return of state worship (Financial Times)

British liberties have been steadily eroded by recent governments, writes Samuel Brittan, drawing a link between economic policy and issues of personal freedom.

9. I have a future. So many Afghans my age don't (Times)

As the leaders last night debated foreign affairs, a young refugee, Hewod Azizjan, reflects on the conflict as seen from Britain and his home country.

10. Bolivia's fight for survival can help save democracy too (Guardian)

Naomi Klein writes from the world climate change summit in Bolvia. This people's summit is a radical, transformative response to the failure of the Copenhagen club, that could save our democracy as well as our warming planet.

 

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.