A night at the Spectator's parliamentarian of the year awards

Osborne and Alexander could become Britain's most promising comedy double act.

To the Royal Hospital Gardens in Chelsea last night for the dinner to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Spectator's parliamentarian of the year awards (though there was some dispute over whether it was in fact the 25th anniversary; former Spectator editor Charles Moore claimed it was not). The venue was a cavernous, dimly-lit marquee, with the obligatory soft rock music accompanying the announcement of each winner and illuminated stars affixed to the ceiling - it had the feel less of a grand country house party than the wedding of a self-made Essex car dealer's favourite daughter but with the furniture hired from Ikea. "This tent is so lavish," said Nick Clegg, winner of politician of the year, "that it deserves Vince Cable's mansion tax." Meanwhile, the rain beat down on the canvas roof.

My favourite line of what was a splendid evening was from Danny Alexander. He and George Osborne received the award for "odd couple"; Alexander was wearing his Highland tartan, with a tastefully cut kilt. With Osborne at his side, he began thus: "It's obvious who's wearing the trousers in this relationship." An old joke, but nicely appropriate on this occasion. To which Osborne quipped, in reference to the topsy-turvy world of coalition politics, that "he's rolling back the state and I'm defending the Euro!" These two have the potential to become Britain's most promising comedy double act.

David Cameron, cautiously wearing a lounge suit rather than the requested black tie, was guest of honour and gave out the awards. He spoke with his usual fluency, teasing his new-found love Nick Clegg over his considerable personal wealth - and the many mansions in the family. Cameron referred to himself as a "middle-class boy from Berkshire".

Although he was suffering from flu, Spectator editor Fraser Nelson was on hand to introduce each of the award-winners - as Andrew Neil reminded us in his opening address "these are parliamentary not political awards" -- and the list of winners was spread across the parties, with even a gong for Caroline Lucas.

Peter Hoskin has all the details over at the Coffee House.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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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.