Northern uproar

Oh dear, I thought that sort of NS review had died out - you know, the nostril- arching, Cambridge-mannered put-down of, well, let's face it, northern oiks.

What Adam Newey writes about Alan Bennett (Books, 17 September), quite apart from his own cliche-crawling style - "cobbled together", "brisk resume", "contribution to the canon" - looks down upon the author of the Kafka plays, Forty Years On and a tiny masterpiece such as The Cycling Party, in a manner recalling Virginia Woolf putting down that other Bennett, Arnold, as a vulgar outsider.

"Yet there's nothing here to make me want to revise my own opinion of most of his work as the literary equivalent of L S Lowry: provincial, nostalgic, inward-looking; the sort of thing that middlebrow Middle Englanders lap up because it eulogises mediocrity . . . allowing them a knowing smirk at those on the rungs below."

From Newey, this is coming it a bit. His piece is a single, seamless knowing smirk. But he is right about the Lowry comparison. Lowry is compassionate, melancholy and truthful, validated by a great public familiar with the very provinces he paints, Salford, like Bradford, being a human stage. Bennett fills theatres, and his books sell out because the life he draws is recognised as the life that people (and even provincial, nostalgic Middle Englanders are people) live.

Edward Pearce
Thormanby, North Yorkshire

This article first appeared in the 24 September 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The war that Bush cannot win

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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.