Disloyal voters

Michael Jacobs ("Don't just act, talk!", 2 July) argues that the Labour government needs to present the argument for taxes (implicitly, higher taxes). He is wrong. From 1945 until Thatcher came to power, there was two-party consensus for high taxation. The public resented it, but knew that, as both parties agreed, there was no way to vote for a different policy.

Britain is now a consumerist society. I work in retail, and I know - consumers realise their power and use it. They want better products at lower prices, and if they can't get them from one shop, they will go to another. They have no loyalty - just ask Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer.

Now people are applying the same philosophy to political parties as well. If Labour doesn't deliver, they won't say, "Oh, the hospitals are as bad as ever, but at least Labour's heart is in the right place." They will go to the other party.

Martin Phillips
Guildford, Surrey

This article first appeared in the 09 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Just you wait until I grow up

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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.