The Sun puts Cameron on notice as it fails to back the Tories

For the first time in its history, the paper refuses to endorse any party for the local elections.

"It is my job to see that Cameron f****** well gets into Downing Street". So the Sun's political editor Tom Newton Dunn is said to have declared in 2010. But three years on, the paper isn't so well disposed to the Tories. Rather than casting its vote for Cameron's party, the tabloid has chosen to abstain. Its leader states:

The Sun is not going to tell you how to vote today

From our very first paper, 44 years ago, we have always remained politically independent.

We have never served any set party — and we never will.

Sometimes we endorsed Labour or the Tories at election times.

But today, as 18 million people have the chance to elect new local councils, none of the big four deserves our support.

Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and yes, even UKIP, have all proved beyond your trust.

It adds that while the Conservatives "should be the best at getting value for your pound", too many of their councils have "defied the PM's demand to freeze council tax for struggling workers. That is unacceptable". 

After Rupert Murdoch's recent meeting with Nigel Farage, the paper praises the UKIP's leader's "plain talking" but goes on to say that "little of it really stands up as proper thought-through policy" and asks: "how can you trust a chaotic mob that mistakenly puts forward so many fruitcakes and extremists?"

Just like some of those who will vote UKIP today, the Sun is likely to return to the Conservative fold before 2015 but the leader is a notable warning to Cameron. The paper is furious at his decision to cave in to Labour over press regulation and dismayed by the weakness of Britain's economic recovery. The leader that follows its non-endorsement is a typical example. 

David Cameron said the Tories were on the side of "start-ups, go-getters, risk-takers".

“What drives us mad,” the PM declared, “is the bureaucracy, the forms, the nonsense getting in our way.”

Yet two years on, small businesses – the lifeblood of Britain – are still being strangled by red tape.

It’s no wonder one in three fail within their first three years.

As they die, so does the recovery.

The days when the Sun had any significant influence on the outcome of general elections are over (if they ever existed) but a refusal to endorse the Tories in 2015 would still be viewed as a significant blow to Cameron. Two years out from the election, the paper has served the PM a warning: don't take our support for granted.

Rupert Murdoch holds up a copy of The Sun on Sunday as he leaves his London home on February 26, 2012. 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.