A quirk of Australian Prime Ministers

All but one of Australia’s first 20 prime ministers have federal electoral divisions named after them. The first, Edmund Barton, a prime mover in federation, resigned after three years to become a high court judge.
His successor, Alfred Deakin, a spiritualist, served three separate terms, the collapse of his first administration leading to the country’s first Labor government, under Chris Watson, which lasted just four months. Three other PMs, Earle Page, Arthur Fadden and Francis Forde, served for less than a year, Forde for eight days after the death of the wartime Labor leader, John Curtin.
Page’s best man at his second marriage was the eighth PM, Stanley Melbourne Bruce. Joseph Cook (1913-14) has no seat in his memory, the Cook division in New South Wales having been named after Captain Cook.
A sculpture of John Curtin stands in the Australian city of Fremantle, near Perth. Image: Getty

This article first appeared in the 16 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: The deadly stalemate

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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.