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For Ed, it’s Prim up north

The Londoner has a Yorkshire rebellion on his hands.

Londoner Edward Miliband has a Yorkshire rebellion on his hands. Trade union tykes on the party’s national executive committee, led by Unison’s speaks-her-mind Wendy Nichols, gave him a reet ear-bashing over the exclusion of White Rose county folk from the controversial Rotherham by-election. Nichols complained of anti-Yorkshire discrimination, citing Doncaster where one of the town’s MPs is a leading light in the capital’s Primrose Hill Labourati: Ed M himself. Mili waffled nervously, my informant recounted, as half a dozen on the NEC had a dig. Sarah Champion from Derbyshire duly won the potentially tricky Rotherham contest for Labour, but not before the hospice manager, a member of the party for all of two years, was ordered to change her script. Telling voters that “Rotherham needs respect” was judged risky when George Galloway’s Respect was standing a candidate of its own.

Who is David Cameron more afraid of – Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan or Paul Dacre and Tony Gallagher? No 10’s calculation, whispered a Tory snout, is that the Prime Minister needs the Daily Mail and Torygraph on his side more than he does a couple of hacked-off actors. Raw power made Leveson a Downing Street no-brainer.

I see onetime chorister Chuka Umunna is hosting a “Festive Media Reception” in place of the usual Christmas drinks and nibbles. Sounds very One Nation Labour. I like to think this column’s leg-pulling, after he invited an elite few to a summer soirée, persuaded the shadow biz sec to issue a general Decembrist welcome to Her Majesty’s Disloyal Lobby. Some things, however, never change. The Ambitious One is staging the glitzy event in the grand Smeaton Room of the Institution of Civil Engineers. And he’s persuaded a City firm to sponsor his wine and canapés. Ed Miliband, perhaps next-generation Rachel Reeves too, should beware.

Coincidentally, junior political scribblers uninvited to Umunna’s summer bash have formed a dining fraternity of their own. The young pens call it the Lower Rung Club after a suggestion of Future Political Editors’ Club was judged both vainglorious and provocative to the lobby boss class. To underline the belowstairs status of members in hierarchical Westminster journalism, hacks face expulsion from the club if Cameron’s Miss Moneypenny, Gabby Bertin, ever deigns to return a telephone message or Dave calls them by name at a press conference.

Tory chief scaredy-cat Michael Fabricant took some stick after waving his Europhobic white hankie in the direction of Ukip. Labour MPs exploited mercilessly an opportunity to wig Mickey for what resembles a mannequin’s head dressed in one of Barbara Windsor’s luxurious hair pieces. Hansard stenographers dutifully turned a deaf ear to a Labour barrage about fringe politics, partitions and partings. Fabricant grinned and bore it, doubtless eager to prove he’s an authentic Tory not a Whig.

Deepening austerity and desperation is forcing supermarkets, an MP with a seat in northern England assured me, to relabel food. On shelves, sell-by dates are replaced with steal-by limits.

Kevin Maguire is 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 10 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Greece: a warning for Britain?

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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.