Farage blunders as he calls for a "two tier flat tax"

The UKIP surge continues, but don't ask its leader for a coherent tax policy.

With two days to go until the local elections, the UKIP wave shows no signs of receding. The latest YouGov poll puts the party on a record high of 14 per cent, while ComRes has them on 13 per cent. 

The surge in support for Nigel Farage's party means the Tories are prepared for losses well in excess of the 350 seats forecast by election gurus Rallings and Thrasher. The figure of 800 seats that appears in today's Sun can almost certainly be dismissed as expectation management but it's not unreasonable to suggest that the party, which currently holds 26 of the 27 county councils up for election, could lose between 500 and 600. 

A cheery Farage was on the Today programme this morning, happily informing listeners that his party's membership has risen by 50 per cent this calendar year. After another UKIP election candidate was unmasked as an extremist (in this case, Somerset candidate Alex Wood, who is pictured giving a Nazi salute and wielding a knife on the front of today's Daily Mirror), Farage conceded that it "doesn't look very pretty" but insisted that it was just one of "a couple of very bizarre cases".

That doesn’t look very pretty, I agree with you, and we have had, out of our 1,700 candidates, a handful who have embarrassed us, mostly because they simply haven’t told us the truth, but we are the only party in British politics who actually forbid former members of the BNP or extreme organisations from even becoming members of UKIP, let alone candidates and, in one or two cases, people haven’t told us the truth.

He added, however: "We have done what due diligence we can at branch level - if people seemed to be very, very odd we didn’t accept them but we have taken people on faith. We don’t have the resources to trawl through absolutely everybody’s social media sites and that has led to one or two embarrassments."

But it was on the tricky subject of tax policy that Farage came unstuck. After last week distancing himself from his party's general election policy of a 31 per cent flat tax rate, the UKIP leader introduced us to the oxymoronic concept of a "two tier flat tax". One was left with the impression of a man making it up as he goes along (and trying to have it both ways). But for now, ever more appear prepared to come with him. 

UKIP leader Nigel Farage speaks at the party's 2013 Spring Conference in the Great Hall, Exeter University. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.