Still haven't given up on the write-in campaign. Photo: Getty Images
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Alan Johnson to lead Labour campaign to keep Britain in the European Union

Alan Johnson, the popular former Home Secretary, will lead Labour's campaign to stay in the European Union.

Alan Johnson, the popular former Labour Cabinet minister, will head up that party's campaign to stay in the European Union in the coming referendum. An anti-European grouping, Labour for Britain, has already been established.

Johnson, who was Labour's last Home Secretary and was sounded out as an alternative to Ed Miliband in the autumn before the general election, described the referendum as "the most profound political decision of my lifetime", saying it had implications for "our national prosperity and Britain's position in the world". Britain, Johnson said, must seek to "effect change" in Europe, "not lurk in the departure lounge". 

Harriet Harman, Labour's acting leader, confirmed the appointment, saying there "was no better person than Alan" to keep Britain in the European Union.

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.