Stephen Brasher's "The Returning Officer" column.

Philip Dormer Stanhope served as the Whig MP for the constituencies of St Germans (1715-22) and Lostwithiel (1722-24) before going to the House of Lords (which he called “the hospital for incurables”) in 1726 as the fourth Lord Chesterfield. Although he served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, his political career was blighted by making an enemy of Robert Walpole. His fame rests with the letters he wrote to his illegitimate son (also Philip), MP for Liskeard (1754-61) and St Germans (1761-65).

He often wrote of the importance of speaking well in parliament, even if ignorant of a subject: “Mr Pitt, particularly, has very little parliamentary knowledge.” After piloting Britain’s switch to the Gregorian calendar despite knowing little of law or astronomy he wrote: “but I was particularly attentive to my choice of words . . . they thought I informed, because I pleased them; and . . . said I had made the whole clear to them, when, God knows, I had not even attempted it”.

This article first appeared in the 10 September 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Autumn politics special

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.