Ed Miliband. Photo: Getty
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Is the stab in the back attack on Ed Miliband anti-Semitic?

Michael Fallon's broadside at Ed Miliband yesterday has sparked accusations of anti-Semitism. But the reality is more mundane - and better news for Labour, too.

Michael Fallon's attack on Ed Miliband yesterday has raised eyebrows  - the Labour leader, we are told is too weak to keep Trident while also being a fiendish backstabber who betrayed his own brother.

It's that latter accusation that has got the Defence Secretary in hot water, with some commentators suggesting it echoes the "stab in the back" myth that was popular in far-right circles in inter-war Germany. Various internal enemies - Communists, Jews, and the politicians of the Weimar Republic -were held to have secretly undermined the German war effort in the First World War to further their own ends.

But was it a deliberate slur? Frankly, as dog whistles go, it's a little too subtle for the party that brought us the "Go Home" vans. Certainly there is a problem with the lazy evocation of North London in British politics, although that's as much an attack on Emily Thornberry and Tony Blair as it is on Miliband. It seems unlikely that anyone in CCHQ is pinning their hopes on the small subset of the electorate that is a) anti-Semitic and b) historically well-informed.

What really lay behind the intervention was the attempt to pull together the two biggest alarm bells that voters raise in focus groups and on the doorstep about Miliband - that they don't trust him in a room with Putin and that he ran against his brother for the leadership. But the problem for Fallon - and the overall Conservative campaign - is that, increasingly, it appears as if a message that polls well in its constituent parts doesn't hang together very well. Like Nutella and smoked salmon, everyone likes them, but no-one wants to eat them together. 

It comes back to the fear that some Conservatives are starting to raise about Lynton Crosby - namely, that his approach has only worked in national elections in Australia, where everyone has to vote, so candidates can focus on driving up their opponents' negatives rather than coming up with a persuasive reason to get them to the polling station. One parliamentary candidate says of their patch: "If everyone I spoke to were marched to the polling station, I'd win. There is still a hatred of Miliband in the country at large. But what are we offering to get our vote out?" 

It all feels uncomfortably like Better Together's "Leave and we'll kill you" approach to the Scottish referendum - but with the added worry for the Conservatives that people liked the Union to begin with. They have no such cushion.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

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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.