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50 People Who Matter 2011 | 12. Nicolas Sarkozy

Mr Bruni.

Before the disgrace of the Socialist presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn in May, the odds on Nicolas Sarkozy winning a second term as French president were long and lengthening. His poll numbers were in the doldrums. And his appointment in March of a rival, Alain Juppé, as foreign minister was an admission of weakness that led commentators to question whether Juppé might not run as the candidate of the right in 2012 in Sarkozy's place. In the past six months, however, things have changed: the president's personal ratings began to climb after the announcement that his wife, Carla Bruni, was pregnant, and he appears to be benefiting from the enthusiasm with which he pitched France into Nato's successful intervention in Libya. With the Socialist primary too close to call, it would be reckless to bet against Sarkozy occupying the Élysée Palace again this time next year.

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This article first appeared in the 27 September 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter

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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.