Class conscious

We gave a dinner party last Saturday. As usual, everyone who came said, "How wonderful to be asked, we never go to dinner parties any more", and so on. They could be saying this for two reasons: 1) because it's true; or 2) to make me, me especially, feel better about very obviously being the sort of person who doesn't get many dinner-party invitations. I used to think the correct explanation was number 2. As it is with celebrities and drug-taking, I would frustratedly muse, so it is with the middle classes and habitual dinner-party attendance: they will only admit to having done it in the past.

But now I wonder. The massed middle classes of north London may be laughing around convivial candlelit tables as I make this pronouncement, but I actually do think that dinner parties are on the way out. One of our guests on Saturday gave two plausible reasons: people are too busy, and the culinary standards in our food-obsessed era are too high.

By implication, this guest was congratulating me on not being put off by these high standards, and going into battle armed only with a Delia Smith recipe for sausages in red wine. This is my standard dinner-party production, allowing me to allude, with becoming lack of pretension, to my working-class origins (the sausages), while also hinting at the cosmopolitan sophistication that has subsequently overtaken me (the red wine). That recipe always seemed custom-made for me, so much so that once, when I left the book in which it appears on a bus, I hailed a taxi and asked the driver to "follow that bus". As we sped through the West End, the intrigued cabbie asked why. "Because I've left a cookbook on it!" I yelled, and he seemed faintly disgusted by this - at any rate, he slowed down.

But now I'm sick of sausages in red wine - one reason why I really do hope the dinner party is dead. Another is the social paranoia that manifests itself in my wife's not sleeping the night before, for worrying about what might go wrong, and my not sleeping the night after, for worrying about what did go wrong. Obviously, all invitations to other people's dinners will be gratefully received none the less.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Democracy can be bad for you

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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.