The rich are always with us

Someone needs to remind John Lloyd ("How the rich rule politics again", 26 March) that the baleful, narrow and usually entirely selfish ruling vision of the rich never went away. In the 1920s, R H Tawney engaged in research on this nation's hierarchies and discovered that roughly 28,000 families ran every major institution, business or undertaking, from fine art to the military, astronomy to zoology. In the l960s, Richard Titmuss repeated the research and discovered that the same 28,000 families were still running everything, including new hierarchies not "invented" in the earlier research, such as the BBC. With interesting but temporary exceptions such as post-revolutionary Russia (which rapidly established its own brand of hereditary owners), every nation shows the same pattern.

The result of this rule by self-perpetuating oligarchies is all around us. The Darwinian fitness of these people to rule is proved again and again. Every time the People have the power in their hands, they promptly hand it back to their "masters" with an almost audible sigh of relief.

Christopher Knapp

In John Lloyd's interesting article on the rich in politics, there is a reference to "democratic oligarchy". But oligarchs are not necessarily rich, whereas plutocrats are, by definition. The traditional term for the situation he describes is "plutocracy".

How about "plutodemocracy", to define plutocracy masquerading as democracy?

William Keegan
London, N1

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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.