Ed Miliband speaks with radiotherapists, during his visit to University College hospital, on April 4, 2011 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour leads on health, but it has to be clear that money for the NHS will lead to cuts elsewhere

To achieve economic credibility, Miliband needs to speak the language of priorities. 

Scandal follows scandal in Westminster, but David Cameron continues to float above it all. For a period his government appeared dangerously inert in response to allegations of a child abuse cover-up. But the establishment of two inquiries and his vow to leave “no stone unturned” moved him into safer territory.

“Concrete Cameron” is the name some MPs have given the Prime Minister, in tribute to his strange resilience. In short succession, his party finished third in a national election for the first time in its history, his public campaign to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s nomination as European Commission president was comprehensively defeated by EU leaders and his former director of communications Andy Coulson was imprisoned for phone-hacking. But none of these moments was accompanied by the kind of ritual humiliation that Cameron’s opponents hoped for.

It is the enduring strength of the Prime Minister’s brand (he outpolls his party by 7 points; Ed Miliband trails Labour by 13) that gives the Tories hope that they will win next May by framing the general election as a presidential contest. The recent improvement in Cameron’s ratings has surprised those who predicted his reputation would be tarnished irrevocably by now. When he pressed ahead with Andrew Lansley’s National Health Service reforms in 2012, commentators on left and right said that it would prove to be his “poll tax moment”. But the measures have inspired nothing close to that insurrection. Labour focus groups show that voters believe the NHS is struggling but also that they do not connect this with any particular government policy.

The opposition’s aim for the summer is to establish the Prime Minister as the guilty man. After last year’s “cost of living” offensive, it will devote the parliamentary recess to charting the “Cameron effect” on the health service. Leaflets in target seats will focus on the year-long failure to meet the four-hour A&E waiting time target, the lack of GP availability (four in ten people wait more than a week for an appointment) and the missed cancer treatment target. Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, and other MPs will join a re-creation of the Jarrow march organised by a group of mothers to protest against the creeping privatisation of the service.

Labour regards raising the salience of the NHS, the issue on which it enjoys its largest poll lead, as essential to its chances of victory next year. “After living standards, we need it [the NHS] to be voters’ priority,” a strategist says. At present, that place is taken by immigration, on which Labour trails the Conservatives by 9 points. To improve its odds, the party needs to force the Tories on to its preferred battleground.

Conservative ministers, who have been ordered by Lynton Crosby, the party’s campaign manager, to avoid mentioning the NHS, believe they can repel the opposition’s assault by deriding the state of the service in Labour-run Wales. But Miliband has adopted a new riposte to this attack: Cameron wants to talk about Wales because he cannot defend his record in England. The disparity in performance between the two countries has narrowed as the health service has deteriorated under the coalition.

But Labour will be able to dwell on this issue for only so long before it is forced to confront a funding gap of £30bn by the end of the next parliament. Stephen Dorrell, the former health secretary, Sarah Wollaston, the new chair of the health select committee, and Frank Field, the former social security minister, all warn that the NHS will not survive in its present form without a real-terms increase in spending. Demographic pressures, the rising cost of technology and the growth in chronic conditions are such that merely ring-fencing the service from cuts will not suffice.

To save the NHS from collapse, Field has proposed a 1 per cent rise in National Insurance, accompanied by the lifting of the floor on contributions and the removal of the ceiling. He told me: “It both deals with the health service and deals with the double Ed problem, which is: does anyone believe them on the fiscal side?”

The plan is partly modelled on Gordon Brown’s 1 per cent increase in NI in his 2002 Budget, a move that proved more popular than almost anyone expected. Miliband, who as a Treasury adviser helped to design the policy, later described this act of social-democratic statecraft as his proudest moment. Yet there is little prospect of a sequel. Shadow cabinet ministers, including Ed Balls, believe that is untenable for the party to speak of a “cost-of-living crisis” and then to argue for a rise in taxation on low- and middle-income earners. “It would be kamikaze politics,” one tells me.

Burnham has long signalled that he does not believe an increase in NHS funding can be justified until health and social care have been integrated and all potential savings have been achieved. He is focused on securing the money needed to support his scheme, potentially through a 10 per cent levy on all estates. But while the long-term savings from integration are estimated to be as high as £6bn, health professionals believe a short-term injection of funds is essential.

“The language of priorities is the religion of socialism,” declared Nye Bevan, the father of the NHS. The only way for Labour to square the fiscal circle may be finally to reveal the austerity it would impose elsewhere in order to release resources for the health service.

Few in Westminster fully comprehend the budgetary horrors that await the next government as ministers, having trimmed Whitehall of fat, are forced to cut into bone. If Miliband is to offer himself as the saviour of the NHS, it is the language of priorities that he will need to speak.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The end of the red-top era?

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The next mayor must tackle what’s making London miserable for too many

London in 2016 risks losing much of what makes it such a diverse, vital and multi-layered place to the sterilising forces of polarised wealth and misguided policy.

Since Londoners last went to the polls to elect a Mayor in 2012, the city has continued to polarise.

While bankers’ bonuses and foreign inflows of capital have kept the plushest bars and restaurants busy, during Boris Johnson’s tenure, London’s levels of inequality have risen, with latest figures suggesting 27 per cent of Londoners live in poverty.

The next mayor will preside over a truly global city – but whether it’s Sadiq Khan or Zac Goldsmith, bold action must be taken so that all Londoners can benefit from the city’s success and it doesn’t just become a playground for the super-rich, socially cleansed of the millions of ordinary workers who keep it running.

In recent years, my research on prosperity has taken me around the world – from Kenya to Thailand – but some of the most interesting findings have come from our own doorstep in East London. A research team from UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP), working closely with local citizen scientists, spent four months across three sites in Hackney Wick, East Village (the former Olympic athletes’ village) and Stratford, gathering experiences of what prosperity really means to local people.

These areas are in the shadow of the Olympic Park, Boris Johnson’s biggest legacy – and on the front line of London’s gentrification. What came to the fore were a range of shared sentiments: fears of being priced out, crushing house prices and escalating rents, fear of crime, deprivation and a lack of job opportunities.

In the ostensibly wealthy East Village, for instance, one resident told us: “If prosperity is living in a great place, having a fantastic school and great quality of life then I am prosperous. But it’s a struggle to hold on to this, to pay for it”.

That feeling of clinging on by the fingernails is a sentiment many Londoners will recognise.

While complaints about gentrification aren’t new, the phenomenon’s worsening impact was highlighted recently by the Runnymede Trust which pointed to the growing levels of overcrowding particularly among ethnic minorities.

This was an issue that came up in our research too. One Stratford resident told us about Victorian-style conditions in their local area: “I know some people are living in very difficult situations, with lots of people living in one house because they can’t afford to rent or buy. So maybe ten to fifteen people living in a three-bedroom house.”

Sadiq Khan has called the housing crisis the single biggest barrier to prosperity, growth and fairness facing Londoners today”.  That may be true, but we need to stop looking at single issues and take a broader view of the factors that create  - and undermine - prosperity.

While we can look at broad indicators such as personal wealth, housing prices or unemployment, there is currently no way of measuring people's true prosperity – a nuanced and subjective concept that’s very personal.

An urgent priority for the next Mayor should be to commission a report on the whole of London so we can understand the issues in more detail. This shouldn’t just be a 21st-century version of Charles Booth’s famous map of red and blue streets, however. It needs to talk directly to Londoners about their experiences of being part of today’s capital – and ‘crowdsource’ some suggested solutions.

At the IGP, we’ve developed a model of 17 indicators for measuring prosperity covering social, economic, cultural and political life, which are often viewed in isolation. Our measures include the things that people really value in their lives, such as their sense of community or having the quality time to pursue their aspirations.

One area that this extends to is the natural environment and how we interact with it. Since air quality, water, waste and climate change all come under the mayor's remit, green issues have been high on the agenda in this election; Khan has outlined his plans to make London “a zero-carbon city”, while Goldsmith has pledged to create 200 new parks for London.

But I’d suggest that a more effective policy for a prosperous London would be to establish it as a National Park City, an idea that’s been gaining traction in recent years.

This plan recognises that Greater London already has lots of green space – it makes up almost 50% of the land area – that isn’t used effectively. But it goes deeper than that: a national park, just like Dartmoor or the Lake District, is also about preserving a unique social and economic environment as well as a natural one.

London in 2016 risks losing much of what makes it such a diverse, vital and multi-layered place to the sterilising forces of polarised wealth and misguided policy.

Although the political spotlight has shone on the EU Referendum so far this year, the Mayoral race still holds great significance for London’s 8.6 million residents.

We need the next Mayor to make a bold start to his tenure by doing what he can within the powers available to make a real positive difference to the prosperity of London, focused on the real lives of Londoners.

Professor Henrietta Moore is Director of UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity