3. Progressive

When did everyone become a progressive? When did progressive become a noun? If you think this election is going to be characterised by battles over public spending, you are wrong. It is about who is actually a progressive - forward-looking, liberal, reformist. But surely they can't all be one?

Gordon Brown: "Let us be . . . proud to be progressives."
Nick Clegg: "Those orphaned by Labour's failures will find a better progressive home in Liberal values."
David Cameron: "We are the true progressives now."
George Osborne: "The torch of progressive politics has been passed to a new generation of politicians . . . Conservatives."

It's so confusing! You can hardly move for politicians positing themselves as progressives. It's as if they're breeding. And look how they shape "progressive" in their rhetoric. Clegg turns it into a home, cosy and safe. Osborne holds it aloft as a torch - like an Olympian, or an old man scrabbling for his keys in the dark. Elsewhere Brown describes the "global progressive family". It's like a group hug.

But it's hard to know what a word means any more when so many different people, who supposedly believe and espouse such different things, lay claim to it. You'd think one of them would catch on and come up with something different. You know: "Progressive? Not likely. Go to the Lib Dems if you want progress. We in the Conservative Party are the New Regressives - taking you backwards faster and further than ever before."

And then there's Glenn Beck, he of Fox News and infinitely reasonable views: "Progressivism is the cancer in America and it is eating our constitution."

What? A minute ago progressives were families and homes and torches. And now they're a monstrous disease with the ability to eat a crucial historical document.

You can't keep hold of the thing. It's the conger eel of words, co-opted in the name of good and evil and anything in between. Poor old progress. It probably just wanted a quiet life, plodding gently forward.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 29 March 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Hold on tight!

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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.