Class conscious

It has being suggested that we live in a golden age of children's fiction, but one of the pleasures of having young kids is that you can choose their reading matter - class considerations, of course, looming large.

Out of snobbery, I steer my children away from Enid Blyton's Noddy, whom I find to be a money-grubbing petit bourgeois, a determinedly on-the-make cabbie preoccupied with how much he can earn from giving people lifts in his little car. (Although his policy of charging a flat fare of 6d per journey does square with progressive transport ideas.).Being crassly aspirational, Noddy sucks up to patrician individuals of independent means (ie, Big Ears) and entertains towards the pinch-faced goblins of Toytown (the working classes) an unhealthy mixture of fear and hatred. My prejudice against Rupert stories, on the other hand, arises out of snobbery of the inverted sort, for I associate them with the Sunday Express in the days when it was an intellectual tabloid newspaper contemptibly masquerading as a broadsheet.

I also resist buying my kids books that are just too smugly middle-class, and these fall into three categories. First, there are the overly didactic ones, such as the book I came across recently called Katy Meets the Impressionists (that's as in Monet, not Mike Yarwood, of course), which conveyed the subliminal message: force-feed this to your five-year-old daughter and she might turn into Joan Bakewell. Second, there are the excessively PC ones, like the book I once bought featuring a disgustingly right-on bear who went about his household chores with the future of the planet uppermost in his mind: he wouldn't put his clothes in the tumble-dryer, for example, oh no . . . he hung them on the line.

The third type of quintessentially middle-class children's story is the old-fashioned heartily non-PC sort, into which category falls an early 1970s Ladybird book that I've just read to my sons. It concerns some boys, and one girl, who get into a scrape while on holiday, and, at a certain point, all get very hungry . . . Guess who does the cooking? I persited nevertheless, because it had that saving grace of many an otherwise dodgy tome: you wanted to know what happened next.

This article first appeared in the 20 March 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: yet again, they are lying to us

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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.