Lynton Charles joins a fundraising committee

The Journal of Lynton Charles, Chancellor of the Duchy of Durham

Thursday Boss Hilary and I are still getting representations from MPs who are cross about the Grope Affair. Ever since it was revealed that Aloysius Grope, proprietor of one of our least significant national newspapers and also publisher of - among other titles - Banging Sluts and Whipping Granny, had given half a million to party coffers, the balloon has gone up. Many of us were blooded in the Seventies, when the patriarch inside us was subject to assault by early feminism, and we've never quite been at ease with matters of the groin since. As for the female MPs, well all I can say is that I'm glad that Grope also publishes Wanking Gayboys, as otherwise the charge of sexism would sink us. I think some of our lot would rather get their money from a Saudi arms dealer, as the Tories traditionally have, than from someone selling sex. One may be immoral, but the other is worse - it's tacky.

Saturday I am bedding in my lobelias (I have taken up mild gardening since my sex life all but ceased) when Cheryl calls to say that Biggles Clarke is on the line.

"Er, Lynton," says the chalky voice, "are you well? Good. Look, I've been talking to The Master. We think we've got to do something about this funding business. We're being hammered. Quite unfairly. I've suggested that we set up a vetting committee. Look at donations, decide whether they're kosher or not. Hilary says she's too busy, so we want you to be on it."

I instantly see another Dome, another Wembley on the horizon. This is a job for losers, only just behind Transport Secretary in its deadliness. But you can never say "no". So I ask Biggles who else is going to be on the committee.

"Me. Dave Triesperson, Lord Arafat, you and, er, George Galloway."

"George Galloway?"

"Joke. Actually we need a woman. Do you know any?"

I nearly tell him that I wish I did. However, all the women I know would be turning down donations continuously on one pretext or another. And, if my guess is right, this committee has been set up for the purpose of agreeing to donations, but in a scrutineering, eyes-narrowed kind of a way. It's a shame that Rabbi Julia Neuberger is not in the party. She'd be ideal.

Tuesday The first session of the Labour Party Donations Scrutiny Committee meets at Old Queen House. Biggles is in the chair, flanked by Dave Triesperson and the swarthy figure of Lord Arafat of Woking (who also doubles up as The Master's personal envoy to the Middle East). Also round the small table are moi, a round, friendly chap called Barry Cox who is something big in television, and the extraordinary, elongated figure of Janet Street-Porter. I wonder for a moment whether she hasn't wandered in by mistake. But no, when the introductions are made, it becomes clear that her membership is deliberate. A coup, I'd say.

Biggles begins. He reminds us that the party has done absolutely nothing wrong - certainly not with Bernie, the Hindujas, Mr Mittal or Aloysius Grope. But the perception is that we have done bad things. Therefore we need a process that will reassure people and help to alter those perceptions. So, the committee will look at all proposed donations of more than five grand. They will investigate the background of the donor and ask hard questions about his or her motivation.

"Only then," concludes Biggles, "will we accept the money. Then we can say that we are satisfied that there are no favours expected, no strings attached, so we can take the dosh and stick it straight in the bank. Clear?"

We all nod.

This article first appeared in the 27 May 2002 issue of the New Statesman, The laptop fascists

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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.