The trouble with trying to be green

There is definitely something wrong with the weather (I spent a lot of July and August feeling and looking like Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai), and so I joined the party last month. I admit that I am still not profoundly green. In fact, when I got my first communication from the party, I thought: "Well, they ought to get themselves some smarter-looking stationary for a kick-off." And then the penny dropped: of course . . . recycled paper.

I have conditioned myself to refuse a bag when offered one in a shop, and will walk home with a pocketful of apples, like Just William. Sorry to sound smug, but if I'm going to the north of England, I cycle to King's Cross and get on a train. I switch off more lights than I switch on, and I always turn off taps left running in public lavatories (which may be one qualification for an OBE some years down the line).

I also recycle intensively. I spend so much time recycling newspapers, and so little time reading them, that I might as well just place my recycling crate directly under the letterbox every morning - cut out the middle man. I am now finally beginning to see the appeal of reading newspapers online, not that I've ever done that. This is reprehensible for a party member, but I associate computers with work, so try to minimise my involvement with them. It's different for my children: they simply associate computers with life.

I have a giant crate for newspapers in the garage, and last year I placed alongside it three dustbins: one for cardboard, one for plastics, one for glass. But I can't be bothered to go out to these every time I, say, finish a bottle of wine (which is pretty often, believe me), so I'll keep bottles, bits of cardboard, etc, lying around the house until I can work up the motivation. I need an intermediate container of some sort for these things, and it's going to have to look good. My local council, Haringey, recently sent out a plastic container emblazoned with Haringey logos, in which food could be recycled. "Keep it handy in your kitchen," the accompanying brochure breezily suggested. My wife put it straight into the garage next to my dustbins, saying "If they think I'm putting that in my kitchen, they can think again."

I usually go out to the bins last thing at night, forcing my neighbour to endure a long bout of clanging as I put the right material in the right bin. I then decant it into bin bags so Haringey can collect it, or drive it in my Skoda to the recycling centre. The Skoda is reasonably fuel-efficient, but I dare say I should not be driving to the centre, and that's one trouble with trying to be green. You're always prone to some faux pas that completely undermines your efforts, rather as we as a nation have undone most of our good intentions on the environment by giving the go-ahead to Terminal Five at Heathrow.

This article first appeared in the 03 October 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: our fatal blunder

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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.