Class conscious

In my third year at secondary school, I was taught cooking, which was dressed up as "domestic science" to sell it to the lads. Cooking was, naturally, seen as something that cissies did (although there was nothing cissie-ish about the teacher, a steely, rasping-voiced woman who, when she said "We're going to make an apple crumble", put a vindictive emphasis on the last word). It was also, even in the radically unsnobbish environment of a Yorkshire secondary modern, seen as a below-stairs kind of activity.

I never paid much attention in those lessons. Twenty years ago, it was safe to assume that there was no big money to be made in becoming a good cook. Now, the celebrity chefs are the aristocrats of the lifestyle culture, and we have the fascinating class phenomenon of young Jamie Oliver. I have been cooking from his book, The Return of the Naked Chef, since Christmas.

Oliver is the most brilliantly marketed person of the moment. He - or his people - realised that chefs have been, if anything, over-promoted socially, so he adopted his widely celebrated tactic of coming on all "street". None of your prissy "slowly stir in two ounces of lentils". Oliver will say something like "bung in a handful of lentils". The book concludes with some street salutations, possibly lifted straight from a dictionary of contemporary slang, such as "respect", "nice one" and "shout going out". I, personally, will give £100 to anybody who can authentically state that they've heard an ordinary person spontaneously saying "shout going out" in place of goodbye.

Oliver's book actually contains a recipe for bacon sandwiches - I mean, I can make a bacon sandwich, for God's sake. But he also knows what salsa verdi is, and marscapone. He's nice to old ladies, too.

My wife once stayed in especially to watch a programme where Oliver chirpily cooked a meal for a group of old ladies, but this was too much, even for her. "I felt like throwing up," she later admitted.

Class-wise, Oliver is all things to all men and women, a strategy epitomised in a reference in his book to "the River Cafe posse". It is extremely annoying, but that bacon sandwich of his is damn tasty, I must say.

This article first appeared in the 12 February 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Exclusive: how Labour could lose

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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.