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7. Defining moments of the Thatcher years | Heseltine resigns | 9 January 1986

The Westland affair

Michael Heseltine stormed out of 10 Downing Street after stating that his views on the future of the Westland helicopter company were being ignored by Thatcher. She had informed her defence secretary that all his comments on the Westland company would need to be vetted by officials before being released. Heseltine was incensed:

[I]f the basis of trust between the prime minister and her defence secretary no longer exists, there is no place for me with honour in such a cabinet.

Faced with financial difficulty, Westland Helicopters was forced to accept a buyout from another company. An initial offer was made by a US firm, Sikorsky, and another by a European defence consortium. Thatcher and the Westland directors favoured the US offer, but Heseltine and several others were concerned about increasing Britain's military dependence on the US and supported the European offer

The Westland affair, as it is now known, almost dislodged Thatcher. And Heseltine's resignation prompted a further resignation of a senior Tory minister just 15 days later. The trade and industry secretary, Leon Brittan, resigned after allegations that he had leaked a memo from the solicitor general criticising Heseltine.

Next: 8. The Battle of Trafalgar | 31 March 1990

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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.