Competition - Win a bottle of champagne

No 3572 Set by George Cowley

We asked for extracts from Andrew Morton's forthcoming books on Prince Charles and Bill Clinton. In case you felt uninspired by either of these, you were also allowed to tackle Tony Blair.

Report by Ms de Meaner

Although a few tried the PM, it was the Bills and Chassers that hit the jackpot. However, I looked askance at any of the latter that suggested talking to plants was not only entirely normal, but that the writer had been using them as sources; eg, David Silverman: "An artichoke at Highgrove had this to say: 'Charles was sensitive and caring. He treated us as individuals . . . ' " £15 to the winners, hon menshes to Basil Ransome-Davies for Charles's epigram ("You have to climb to the top of a hill to see what's on the other side - unless you have some chappie drive you round") and Will Bellenger ("At Balmoral in 1970, safe in the tartan lap of the Highlands, the distraught prince confronted his unblinking mother and father . . . "), and the bottle to Ian Birchall.

Night-times were the worst. Despite his father's disapproval, and his mother's distance, he prayed: "God bless Mummy, and long may she reign over us; and God bless Daddy, and may he soon go back to sea." Afraid of the dark, he regularly sobbed himself to sleep, tightly clutching his zip-tummy bear pyjama case, with its one remaining ear. Yet amid the creepy corridors and empty opulence, there were guiding, supporting hands. There was Mrs Dibble, who realised that behind the withdrawn politeness was a sensitive, lonely child. There was his dear valet Footling, later, in one of the greatest betrayals of his life, to be stolen from him by his mischievous Uncle Dickie. It was Footling who arranged his Brittoy farm, and moved the animals at his direction; Footling who laid out his little wooden model village. Without Footling, would there have been, over a quarter of a century later, the Pennyburton Village Project, or Royal Organic-Oatie Biscuits? What spiritual resources sustain Charles now in his darkest hours? What did his wise old mentor van de Graaff so often say? "When the rains fall, the spoor of the eland point the way." Surely, for Charles, the future is to come.

Anne Du Croz

Sometimes Bill felt, like many men who shoulder responsibility, that the world was all too eager to highlight his human frailties while ignoring the important work he was doing. His fearless stand on law and order, his resolute support for American business, his defiance of the mad dictator Saddam Hussein - all these were overlooked by a media clique intent on hounding him. Gazing over the head of an intern, he often felt himself musing on past presidents who had been made scapegoats. Kennedy shot, Nixon driven from office . . . but you simply had to gird your loins and press on, whatever you were doing.

Luckily, there were people he could count on. Chelsea, for one. Sometimes she seemed wiser, more practical and grown up than her mother, with more understanding of men's needs. While Hillary - was there no room in her heart for Christian charity?

At such moments of doubt and worry Bill would turn to his Bible, the book that had sustained him through the bitterest controversies, reading over and over again those simple, vital truths that, as the psalmist wrote, might be found in the mouths of babes and sucklings.

G M Davis

When I say Charles came from a poor home, the term should not be taken too literally. Yet there was much in his childhood that would have been unknown to one raised in the genteel end of Islington - the father who put sporting fixtures before family, the gin-sodden granny with mounting gambling debts, the visiting aunt with her raucous, xenophobic tirades.

At puberty, Charles developed opinions. This was a genetic freak, since on available evidence his mother did not have a single opinion in 50 years of marriage. At 14 Charles was having multiple opinions. A middle-class youth would have gone to the pub and, as soon as he began speaking of architecture or Britain's role in the world, would have been told by fellow drinkers to "Shut yer bleeding mouth!" Charles, surrounded by narrow-minded sycophants, got no such neighbourly advice.

As Charles began to realise he was not as other boys, his deprived home life became more repressive. He could not "come out"; his was the condition that dared not speak its name. Though it was in everybody's mind, nobody in that blinkered milieu breathed the word that could have enabled him to come to terms with his identity - "buffoon".

Ian Birchall

No 3575 Set by George Cowley

Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) once wrote: "No country . . . is further removed from democracy than England." What would he make of us now? Could we have 200 words proving his point by 22 April. And please don't forget to include your telephone numbers.


This article first appeared in the 09 April 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Judge the US by deeds, not words

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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.