Show Hide image

In this week's magazine | Russia vs the West

In this week's magazine.

Russia vs the West
27 February - 5 March 2015 issue 

Cover Story: “Russia vs the West”
Elizabeth Pond on the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine


Peter Oborne on the response to his resignation from the Daily Telegraph.

Phil Whitaker and Iain Dale consider the renewed NHS crisis.

The Politics Column: George Eaton writes that it’s still too soon to write off Ukip.

First Thoughts: Peter Wilby on the credulity of Straw and Rifkind.


The NS Essay: Putin’s long war

Elizabeth Pond argues that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has destroyed the peace in Europe for a generation.

A year since Vladimir Putin shocked Europe by annexing Crimea and fomenting rebellion in Ukraine’s previously quiet Donbas region, his undeclared war on the Russians’ east Slav brothers has become the “new-old normal” on the continent. It has displaced the seven-decade interlude in which Europeans thought they had established a postmodern order of peace in their heartland. It has induced a loss of hope that Europe’s embodiment of the liberal peace first envisioned by Immanuel Kant can be restored within less than one or two generations – if at all. It has confronted the west with a stark choice between appeasement of a regional bully or war with no mutually understood restraints in a nuclear-armed world.

Writing that the “truce that was patched up again after the destruction of Debaltseve will probably provide no more than a brief winter respite before a spring offensive”, Pond argues that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s intervention in the conflict will not succeed:

German diplomacy in this interlude [four months of relative stability in 2014, following Ukraine’s declaration of a ceasefire in early September] consisted of trying to freeze the conflict by converting the September truce and subsequent protocol into a permanent, comprehensive ceasefire, or at least into an acceptance of common constraints on escalation. The fear was that if that could not be agreed on, Europe would enter an era of acute Russian-western hostility without even the mutual restraints that the two superpowers settled on at the height of the cold war.

She concludes:

The debacle of this month’s attempt to secure a truce has killed the last residual hope of a swift peace. Clearly, the end of the neo-cold war will not occur the way its superpower original did a quarter-century ago, when Washington ostentatiously outspent and out-innovated Moscow in weapons as well as general prosperity just as the Soviet economy and society reached a dead end, making Mikhail Gorbachev decide to trade in empire and feud in return for soft power and animal spirits.

Nor will it come alone from Angela Merkel’s strategic patience, which Philip Stephens of the Financial Times parses as long on patience but short on strategy. And it is unlikely to stem from Vladimir Putin’s progressive foreclosure of his own options by doubling down militarily after every failure to persuade non-Russians of the splendours of Great Russian hegemony. The only certainty is that the war between Russia and Ukraine will go on.

Read our cover essay in full below.



The Diary: Peter Oborne

The Diary this week comes from the commentator Peter Oborne, who writes from Lahore about the fallout of his departure from the Daily Telegraph:

I have been called “brave” and even “heroic” in the wake of my resignation from the Daily Telegraph. This is kind but it is also completely false. For bravery, let’s consider Pakistan, where more than 50 journalists have been killed in the past 20 years. Forty have been killed in Colombia, 56 in Russia, and so the list goes on.

In Britain we are not required to be heroes. We can, however, do our best to behave honourably. A Telegraph old-timer tells me the story of a well-known businessman who visited Bill Deedes, a famous editor of the Telegraph from an era when that paper still had editors. The businessman complained that the City pages were supporting the rival side in a takeover bid and threatened to pull advertising. W F Deedes rose to his feet: “Let me show you to the lift myself, and good day to you!”


Special Report – A critical condition

The general practitioner and eminent novelist Phil Whitaker gives an inside story on the problems facing the National Health Service in England, exploring how successive attempts by Labour and the Tories to “modernise” the service have created untold problems. He considers the “apparent success” of partial privatisation, an “awkward fact for many on the left”.

On the face of it, the drive to compel competition has done what it was supposed to do (albeit at vastly increased administration costs, with contracts being negotiated, invoiced and monitored by armies of bean-counters on all sides). Much elective NHS care nowadays is provided within weeks, not months or even years. This is unquestionably good for patients. And fears for the future of the social contract have receded: where is the advantage in going private when you can get your operation paid for by the NHS at the same independent hospital?

[. . .]

With the fall in disposable income that has accompanied austerity, it is once again relatively unusual for my patients to request private referrals. One way or another, the NHS has remained the franchise to which most people look when they have an elective health-care need.

So, if the service has improved, why then is there a renewed row over NHS privatisation? Whitaker identifies critical service areas damaged by privatisation, which has led to a new NHS crisis – a huge increase in the numbers of elderly patients in poor general health being excluded from the private sector, putting pressure on both non-urgent and urgent NHS services as well as social care, and the increasingly complex process of entry into the urgent-care system:

These are the principal forces behind the flurry of declared major incidents this January, which led to hospitals up and down the country closing their full-to-bursting doors. Our own district general remained open – just – but in a continual state of black alert (which is every bit as bad as the name suggests). All elective surgery was abandoned and extraordinary measures were employed to free up every scrap of capacity.

If we want to do anything other than lurch from crisis to crisis, the whole system will have to be reconfigured. Hospitals, GP surgeries, community nursing, OOH [out-of-hours services], NHS 111, the ambulance service, walk-in centres and minor injuries units are all nominally NHS bodies and should, in theory, be able to work together to ensure only patients genuinely in need of acute hospital care are admitted. The problem is, in our present-day competitive NHS, each entity is trying to protect its budget and ensure its own performance meets the benchmarks by which it will be judged next time its contract comes up for renewal.

Whitaker concludes:

[T]his election does represent a fundamental decision point as to how our NHS will develop or degrade in the future. We need to know, well in advance of the poll, where each party stands on this important matter. And having declared its approach, whichever party goes on to lead the next government must somehow be held to keep the promises on which it has been voted into power.

Read our Special Report in full below.


Observations: What needs to be said about the NHS

Iain Dale, the broadcaster and author of The NHS: Things That Need to Be Said, writes that certain arguments remain unaired regarding the future of the NHS, including making sure the service functions throughout each week:

Outcomes are adversely affected by the NHS’s operations, which seem to run on a five-day, rather than seven-day basis. Are people not supposed to get ill at weekends? Surely we should be moving towards a seven-day NHS, with equality of service provision throughout the week? Here we have 21st-century medicine straitjacketed by a 1940s system.

Why is it that GP’s surgeries offer appointments at times when most people aren’t available to go to them? I run a publishing company and must lose hundreds of man hours of work each year as employees go to visit the doctor, as if that’s a reason why they should be allowed time off. That may sound harsh, but multiply the effect across the economy and we’re all losing out.


The Politics Column: George Eaton

The NS political editor, George Eaton, writes that it is still too soon to write off the UK Independence Party. Although liberals agree that “the purple wave is receeding”, Eaton argues that they may achieve greater success in future:

Ukip strategists, however, are confident that they will attain a platform for greater success in 2020. They are right to be so. Whether the Conservative Party or Labour enters power, Ukip will have no shortage of political ground to exploit.

He writes that a Miliband-led Labour government’s unpopular economic strategies and refusal to hold a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU would work in Ukip’s favour, while a Tory majority would still not resolve questions of Euroscepticism and immigration. Eaton argues that electoral reform would be an even greater spur to the party.

He concludes:

Success is not guaranteed. The ideological tensions between the party’s multiple wings could yet overwhelm it. Douglas Carswell’s repudiation of Enoch Powell on 24 February was the clearest demonstration yet of the gulf that exists between the Ukip MP and Farage on the issue of immigration. “It can be done, but it will not be done if the argument is reduced to arguing about people from Romania,” he declared of EU withdrawal, in an implicit rebuke to his leader.

Perhaps the only thing that could reverse Ukip’s advance is the attainment of power, as the Liberal Democrats learned to their cost. Once tainted by compromise, it would soon come to resemble those it assails as political swine. That is not a fate it need contemplate now. The complacent assumption that Ukip’s moment has passed is born of the same arrogance that first led to its rise.

Read the Politics Column in full below.


First Thoughts: Peter Wilby on the credulity of Straw and Rifkind

In his First Thoughts column, Peter Wilby writes:

What is most extraordinary about the behaviour of Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind, former foreign secretaries who were trapped by undercover journalists into offering their expertise to a fictitious Chinese company for £5,000 a day or more, is that they were so easily bamboozled. It is not, after all, the first time that MPs have been taken in by such approaches. Did it not occur to them to do a little research? To check the identity and track record of those supposedly running the company? To check the credentials of the go-betweens?

Both Straw and Rifkind believe that MPs aren’t paid enough (in terms of either salary or post-retirement pension) and that this excuses their anxiety to acquire “consultancies”. Straw, it is reported, says: “There is [a] really serious issue these days of making politics sufficiently attractive for the brightest and best.” On the evidence of his and Rifkind’s credulity, he clearly has a point.


Kate Mossman on Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band.

Helen Lewis on the rise and fall of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen.

Suzanne Moore: Having failed to get hold of Ringo Starr’s tonsils, I tried to make some cash out of John Lennon instead.

Rachel Cooke explores the nation’s long and tense relationship with the BBC.

Will Self: If there’s one thing young people detest in their elders, it’s the urinous tang of hypocrisy.

Michael Brooks on “orphan” drugs.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496