Rupert Murdoch listens to Barack Obama at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting, at the Four Seasons Hotel, on November 19, 2013, in Washington, DC. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Rupert Murdoch predicts Labour victory in 2015

News Corp head says Cameron "will be dead meat" if the Tories fail to do a deal with UKIP.

With the polls narrowing in the wake of the Budget (YouGov puts Labour's lead at two points today), thoughts have turned to the possibility of a Conservative victory in 2015. But one man still predicting that Ed Miliband will make it to No. 10 is Rupert Murdoch. Earlier today, he tweeted:

The Conservative leadership has long rejected a national pact with UKIP (for the reasons I described here) but that leaves open the possibility of local deals between the two parties' candidates. Nigel Farage said last year that "a couple of dozen" Conservative MPs would be open to an agreement, an estimate described by Tory Philip Hollobone (who was endorsed by UKIP in 2010) as "spot on". 

At a fringe meeting with Farage at last year's Conservative conference, Bill Cash warned that UKIP could cost the Tories up to 60 seats and hand Miliband the keys to Downing Street. "Let us be realistic. Are we going to be allies or enemies? Lay off our marginals," he said.

While UKIP is unlikely to inflict as much damage on the Tories as Cash fears, the split in the right-wing vote (UKIP draws nearly half of its support from 2010 Conservatives), will make it easier for Labour to dislodge the Tories in the marginals it needs to win to become the largest party. At the last election, with a UKIP share of just 3 per cent, there were 20 constituencies in which the party's vote exceeded the Labour majority (one shouldn't make the error of assuming that all those who supported the party would have backed the Tories, but many would have done). Should UKIP poll around 8 per cent, it could well indirectly propel Labour to victory. Unless the Tories manage to dramatically reduce support for Farage's party between now and the general election campaign, talk of pacts will endure. 

But in the absence of a full deal, it looks this is one "winner" that Murdoch won't be backing. 

P.SOne interesting question is the extent to which Murdoch's prediction has been influenced by his recent conversations with Conservatives such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. It was during a recent meeting with the News Corp head that Gove reportedly said that George Osborne, not Boris, would be Cameron's strongest successor (a discussion seemingly premised on Conservative defeat in 2015). Murdoch, who has never warmed to Cameron (asked by Charlie Rose in 2006 "What do you think of David Cameron?", he replied: "Not much"), may well be indulging in some wishful thinking. 

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.