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50 People Who Matter 2011 | 2. David Petraeus

General knowledge.

On 6 September, David Petraeus was sworn in as director of the CIA, having been confirmed unanimously by 94 votes to zero at a US Senate hearing in June. The cerebral former general is best known for his role in Iraq; some credit his military "surge" there in 2007 for the decline in sectarian violence. With his knack for self-promotion, and adored by the media as a scholar-soldier, Petraeus has spent the past year trying - and failing - to pacify the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. But, given the importance of the CIA and "black ops" in the killing of Osama Bin Laden, he will have huge influence over the Obama administration's national security strategy - despite having clashed with the president over the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Petraeus has long been touted as a future Republican presidential candidate. Twelve of the 44 men who have served as president of the US were serving or former generals. Come 2016, don't bet against Petraeus becoming the 13th.

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This article first appeared in the 26 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The fifty 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.