Merily’s verily smitten but Lembit’s no closer to mayoralty

Nick Clegg will move heaven and earth to halt the crooked-toothed Lothario.

I gather that Denis MacShane, the former Europe minister, is the latest MP to be informed by Inspector Knacker that his mobile may have been hacked when the No 10 spinner-in-chief, Andy "I Knew Nothing" Coulson, was editor of the Screws of the World. The Met notified Denis the Menace that his number was found in the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire's files. That makes nearly a dozen MPs and ex-MPs, including Tessa Jowell, Peter Mandelson, Chris Bryant, Simon Hughes, George Galloway and Lembit Öpik. I wonder if George Osborne has checked. The Chancellor was, after all, embarrassed during Coulson's editorship by the publication of a photograph from his days as a young freelance hack. Boy George was pictured with his arm around a self-confessed prostitute and drug user. I recall Osborne denied any hanky-panky, or that the white powder in front of them was cocaine. Perhaps Jeremy Hunt should also ask the Met whether his phone was hacked, particularly as the Culture Secretary will now rule on Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB bid.

Ed Miliband is to be the first Labour leader since Neil Kinnock to address the Durham Miners' Gala after agreeing to attend July's "big meeting". It's very much an Old Labour event, with brass bands and mining union banners, and the right will no doubt revive the "Red Ed" tag. Which makes all the more intriguing Mili Minor's dithering over an invitation to speak at the 26 March anti-cuts rally in London. Union big guns mutter darkly that they will open fire if he skips the TUC demo.

The unlikely things you discover: Yasmin Qureshi, the demure Bolton MP, is a mean whistler. The Labour lawyer, who last year became one of the first female Muslim MPs (along with Shabana Mahmood and Rushanara Ali), can hail a taxi from 50 metres. Her style is a finger in each side of the mouth to emit a shrill pitch. I'm told that even Frank Dobson, the parliamentary man's man, felt emasculated on hearing Qureshi's signature tune. She sounds ideally placed to be the first woman Speaker, using a thweeeeet instead of an "Order, order".

To the BBC for a seat on the Breakfast sofa. In the green room, your correspondent bumped into Öpik, who was accompanied by a young lady I took to be Merily McGivern, his latest cheeky girl. She must be smitten to accompany the recent I Wannabe a Celebrity . . . Get Me In There! contestant to a studio so early in the day. Öpik no longer has a constituency surgery for the Torygraph to secretly record his Lib Dumbs, but I report, without resort to subterfuge, the Yellow Peril Party has postponed the selection of a London mayoral candidate until the summer. Öpik was the only wannabe to qualify for a preliminary shortlist. I hear Nick Clegg will move heaven and earth to halt the crooked-toothed Lothario.

Names in the frame to succeed the ennobled Ray Collins as Labour generalissimo: the tweeting GMB politico Iain McNichol and Luke Akehurst,
a member of the party's NEC. My tuppence is on the amiable McNichol.

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 03 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The siege of Gaza

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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.