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Danny Baker's on-air exit

The sacking of star presenters is nothing new, writes Antonia Quirke.

The Treehouse
BBC London 94.9

Another week, another sacking. This time, Danny Baker, whose afternoon show The Treehouse on BBC London 94.9 (weekdays, 3pm), is for the bin. Clumsily informed by bosses “indirectly”, he immediately took to Twitter to vent at middle management, pointing out, a little brattishly, the very large number of meeting rooms in the new BBC citadel in Portland Place compared to actual studios. (I was in that building the other day and noticed a central board giving directions to these meeting rooms, now jauntily called things like “Del Boy” and “Dot Cotton”. A passing producer mourned that he regularly opens emails demanding “See you in Mr Darcy in 10”. Now that is cruel.)

You don’t need me to tell you that Baker – who thus far keeps his Saturday morning show on Radio 5 Live – is one of the greatest natural broadcasters there has ever been. A courageously principled, super-articulate guy. I remember Julie Burchill telling a story about being in the Marquee at a punk gig with Baker the moment the news came through that Elvis had died. When all the punks started cheering, Baker leapt on to the stage and fearlessly remonstrated with the bastards.

Last week, it was the Radio 2 folk presenter Mike Harding who found himself rendered verboten. Harding is one of the only broadcasters so unselfconsciously straightforward as to say, as he did a few shows back, “I’m playing this because Kathleen has got such a wonderful, soulful voice. This is the opening track and I hope I got the Gaelic pronunciation right.” After 22 years with the station, he was apparently sacked with a quick phone call.

But it was ever, ever thus at the BBC. I’ve attended more outraged leaving dos – from Kaleidoscope to The Afternoon Shift – than I can remember. Not a carriage clock in sight. Don’t kid yourselves that this kind of thing is new, or that it’s getting worse. It’s simply that people feel a very particular loyalty to state enterprises (it’s even worse at the NHS) and so are doubly stunned to find themselves treated as though they were being booted out of a private company. There will (continue to) be blood.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for 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.