Paul Routledge

The exigencies of column-writing being as they are, this is the last time I shall bring you gossip from Westminster until late September, when the party conference season will be upon us. Even that isn't the same. Both the Labour and TUC conferences are wrapping up a day early. Not because there isn't enough to say, but because the head bananas don't want it said.

More than anything, this is a sure indication of new Labour hunkering for an early election. My Cabinet snout still thinks it will be next May. Yet the Queen's Speech will be very late this year, possibly as late as 28 November. It will read, in full: "My government intends to stay in power until it feels the time is right to seek a new mandate from the punters."

Amazingly, the sense of shock felt in the political village over the Philip Gould memos to the Prime Minister does not appear to have communicated itself to Downing Street. Tony Blair has told a close party political ally: "I never read them." This may properly be described as the Mandy Rice-Davies defence. It goes without saying that Gordon Brown did not read them; his people simply chucked Gould's offerings in the bin.

Question: Why are Labour backbenchers whispering to each other "TGFG"? Answer: It stands for "Thank God for Gordon".

The safe seat of West Bromwich West being vacated by Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker if the House, is attracting the usual herd of new Labour wannabes. Among them is Shahid Malik, the ambitious new member of the party's national executive. It may be of interest to Black Country folk that Malik bombed spec- tacularly in Sheffield Heeley, where the veteran lefty Bill Michie is retiring. Despite his claims of support from several Cabinet ministers, Malik didn't even make the shortlist.

Best comment yet on Alastair Campbell, following the controversial BBC film on his virtual premiership: "This is what comes of having a press secretary who is Labour and a prime minister who isn't." Thank you, Austin Mitchell MP.

Ali was not around to take the afternoon lobby briefing the other day, which is just as well. The hacks found their Westminster eyrie locked, and repaired to the vertiginous roof of the Commons, where Godric "Sphinx" Smith, the Civil Service spokesman in No 10, briefed them. One scribe noted that the London Eye was out of service, and asked: "Is this the end of spin?" The sphinx, old beyond his years, was not amused.

"Stevie" Byers has finally had enough of the paintings bequeathed by his predecessor Peter Mandelson in his glass palace in Victoria Street. The Trade and Industry Secretary has ordered the modern art to be taken back to whichever Ministry of Works cellar it came from. He does not share Mandy's taste for lurid depictions of eyes staring down from the wall. Furthermore, I hear that folksy Stevie has made his peace with Ir'n Chancellor Broon over the single currency. He was a bit miffed about being lumped with the ardent Europhiles Mandelson and Cook, and has indicated through an intermediary that he is, as Len Murray would say, on all fours with the five tests.

By the base of the memorial to the suffragettes in Victoria Gardens, next to the palace of Westminster, I found a floral tribute of lilies, white daisies and some nameless mauve flowers. On it, a card "dedicated to the memory of Emmeline Pankhurst, whose sacrifice and determination brought about the franchise for all women". The boiler-suit tendency? Blair's Babes? No, it was from the Conservative Women's National Council. Emmeline Pankhurst was a Tory party candidate. Will the ladies now join the battle to erect a monument to Sylvia Pankhurst, whose name was omitted from the suffragette memorial because she was a lefty? She was chucked out of the Communist Party for failing to accept discipline.

The writer is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 31 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Why Tony Blair is a Bobo

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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.