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Commons Confidential: Liz, Dave and Eddie

Plus: how to whip MPs.

The privileged background of David Cameron, the benefit axeman, has guaranteed the Prime Minister a cushy life in a different Britain from the one that is experienced by the victims of his welfare cuts. A well-to-do snout recalled a meeting of the medieval Privy Council attended by, among others, Her Maj, Prince Edward and the Tory toff. Dave Snooty and Eddie, Earl of Wessex, attended Heatherdown, the haughty preparatory school near Ascot in Berkshire. The prince was a couple of years ahead of the PM and a contemporary of his brother, Alex, so Cameron and the earl began, according to the snout, swapping notes about old school chums. The cosy chat prompted the Queen to observe: “It’s a small world.” Your world, Ma’am, a world shared with an Old Etonian Buller Boy who is a fifth cousin and married to an heiress, is very small indeed.

The key to whipping MPs successfully is to know absolutely everything about a flock – birthday, partner, children, favourite food – so he or she may be cajoled as well as bullied by the party machine. The Labour whip Lyn Brown sidled up to the Gateshead MP, Ian Mearns, to ask him to speak in a debate on a Friday. Mearns, my mole recalled, replied that he had constituency business. “Why don’t you invite Michelle down to London and make a weekend of it?” suggested Brown. “That’s very good,” Mearns answered, “but Grahame might have something to say about it.” Either Brown had confused Gateshead’s Ian Mearns with Easington’s Grahame Morris, married to the aforementioned Michelle, or offering the wife of another MP as an inducement is an unusual new weapon in Ed Miliband’s whips’ office.

The 15 Tory canvassers who thought it funny to march up the drive to the Labour MP Lindsay Hoyle’s Chorley house were fortunate that the Deputy Speaker wasn’t at home. Otherwise they’d have met Gordon –Hoyle’s Rottweiler with the great clunking paw.

The actor Giles Watling, who played Oswald the vicar in Bread, Carla Lane’s 1980s TV comedy about duckers and divers in an economically depressed Liverpool, has tipped up as a Tory councillor in Tendring, Essex. He oversaw the sending of council-tax bills to previously exempt families. The sons of Nellie, the formidable matriarch in Bread, would find a use for the Mersey should Watling return to Liverpool.

Ben Bradshaw, the twowheeled enthusiast, has discovered a gap in the tsar market: the government has no cycle champion, despite being led by a prime minister who, in opposition, regularly pedalled to the House of Commons for the TV cameras. A job for Andrew Mitchell?

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

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 12 April 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Centenary Special Issue

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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.