The Health Secretary won't admit to an A&E crisis. Photo: Getty
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NHS pressures hitting A&E causes a political crisis for the Tories

A number of hospitals in recent days have declared "major incidents" because of A&E pressures.

Emergency departments in our hospitals have reached a "tipping point", according to Dr Clifford Mann, the president of the College of Emergency Medicine. He is referring to the release of figures today expected to show the worst performance of A&E units in a decade, with the government's four-hour target waiting time almost certainly missed.

NHS England is set to publish some damning data on the last quarter of last year today, revealing the pressure on our hospitals that the increase in patients attending A&E, up 20,000 since 2013, has had. A number of hospitals have filed "major incident" warnings in recent days, because their emergency departments have been overstretched.

In spite of a number of senior figures in the medical world – including those working in some of the hospitals issuing major incident warnings – regarding the situation as an unprecedented situation, government figures have so far refused to call this a "crisis". Dr Ian Proctor of one of the affected teaching hospitals used the word in an interview on the BBC's Today programme this morning, but the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who was interviewed afterwards, refused to use such terms.

It's clear there is a capacity and, to some extent, a resource issue affecting our hospitals, but government ministers – specifically Conservative ones – would fall into a political crisis if it treated the situation with the gravity it calls for. This is because Labour's narrative for over a year has been about an "A&E crisis" in our hospitals. As Labour ramps up its rhetoric on the NHS, and the rhetoric manifests itself as a reality in our beleagured health service, it will become increasingly difficult for Tory figures like Hunt to close the credibility gap in its approach to the public service that could well become the general election's central battleground.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage