The insider - Kevin Maguire finds a way back for Twiggy

Gordon's mortgage wheeze, a route back for Twiggy and a parliamentary diarist unmasked

The unseemly death of the European constitution has disturbed the PM's hunt for a holiday home in the Tuscan hills. Those fiendish French have upset plans to hand over to Gordon Brown after a UK referendum. Then there is the cancellation of a well-paid post as EC president on a handy 30-month contract. When Blair next scans the situations vacant columns, his eyes may turn to New York, where Kofi Annan is off shortly.

Brownites, however, have hit on an ingenious, if somewhat risky, means of winkling him out of No 10 sooner rather than later: inflation, lots of inflation. With rent covering just half the £16,000 monthly payments on Blair's £3.6m London retirement home, soaring mortgage rates - so the thinking goes - would force him to quit Downing Street.

Blairites are huddling together as the Brownite barbarians gather outside the Downing Street gates. Margaret "Enver" Hodge is cast as fairy godmother to tearful Stephen Twigg. Enver has two things Twiggy - vanquished in Enfield Southgate - desires more than anything in the world. Alas the first, a ministerial post, is beyond a wave of her wand, as is the second, a safe Commons seat. But wait, what's this? Wicked rumours of Hodge, 60, securing reselection in Barking only to retire on the eve of the next election in favour of Twiggy? I can hear the denials, though Lady Enver already has a familiar ring to it.

To Kingston Readers' Festival, where an unusually high proportion of people, it seems, peruse the Independent. A Q&A session reveals the obscure rag's campaign for electoral reform has the chattering classes conversing excitably in this outcrop of south-west London. One poor,

deluded soul goes so far as to predict that PR is nigh. A Whitehall anorak whispers that Brother Blair made his first flatmate, Charlie Falconer, head of a review into electoral systems to avert bloodshed in the Deputy PM's office. John Prescott opposes reform, whereas the local government minister David Miliband favours PR for English councils. Falconer, a peer without a vote in general elections, never had much time for ballot reform.

Another potential Alan Clark (or Edwina Currie) exposes himself on the Tory benches. Keeping a diary is Henry Bellingham, relative of the gunman who assassinated the 19th-century PM Spencer Perceval. The Norfolk MP let slip his secret in congratulating the Liberal Democrat new boy Jeremy Browne's maiden speech. He was overheard telling the novice: "First class, old boy. I've just put in my notebook: 'Looks like a Tory, sounds like a Tory, why isn't he a Tory?'" Horrified Browne spent the spring recess writing the first hundred reasons. Browne won in Taunton at the age of 35, which makes him a greybeard in Lib Dem terms. Some MPs may be asked for proof of age to get served alcoholic beverages.

Brother Brown is the big draw on this season's union conference circuit. With Usdaw and Amicus under his belt, the Chancellor is expected to notch up the GMB, CWU and T&G before finishing at the TUC. No coincidence that union members cast a third of the votes in Labour's leadership electoral college. Unison no longer invites cabinet ministers since Stephen Byers told nurses, porters, dinner ladies et al to "get into the real world", sparking a two-year review of Unison's links with Labour.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 06 June 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Mob rule

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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.