David Cameron and Boris Johnson campaign in Newark ahead of the by-election on 5 June. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tories ahead in Newark by-election poll, but Ukip could still win

With a week to go, the party's eight-point lead is too small for comfort.

Downing Street will be sighing with relief at the first poll published on the Newark by-election. After a week of intense publicity for Ukip on the back of their victory in the European elections, the poll puts the Tories eight points ahead of the Farageists on 36 per cent (down 18 points on their general election share), with Ukip on 28 per cent (up 24), Labour just behind on 27 (up four) and the Lib Dems on a dismal 5 per cent (down five).

The poll will be seen as confirmation that the Tories are on course to hold the seat vacated by Patrick Mercer last month. Should they do so, it will be the first time they have won a by-election as a governing party since 1989. Ukip has not been aided by its decision to select the former Conservative MEP Roger Helmer, whose past comments include describing rape victims as sharing "the blame" and being gay as "abnormal and undesirable", as its candidate. At a moment when Ukip is attempting to detoxify its brand among centrist voters, Helmer was a bizarre choice. One Tory told that me "Attacking Helmer is like shooting fish in a barrel".

But while the Tories are in front, the 21 per cent swing to Ukip shows that the momentum is with Farage's party (which traditionally surges late in by-election). More than half (51 per cent) of its supporters voted Conservative in 2010, with 16 per cent coming from Labour and 12 per cent from the Lib Dems. With just under a week to go, a late Ukip surge can't be ruled out. Had Farage dared to stand himself, they could be in front already.

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.