Chameleon Dave’s tongue-lashing

The best time to kick a man is when he's down but Ed Miliband is instead wooing a hacked-off Rupert Murdoch. The memo dictated by Labour's strategy chief, Tom Baldwin, an ex-Times hack, instructing Labour MPs to go easy on News International - to speak only in a personal capacity (if at all) about the News of the World's telephone eavesdropping and to avoid making any link between Inspector Knacker's investigation and Uncle Rupe's £8bn BSkyB bid - isn't the Labour leader's only olive branch. I hear that Ted was granted a cosy chat with the Sun's editor, Dominic Mohan, and the Wapping dominatrix Rebekah Brooks.

My snout in Fortress Wapping suggests that, next time, Ted should remember that the Sun was launched in 1964 and avoid asking how it covered events in the 1940s and 1950s; he should also avoid asking the childless Brooks how her kids are. I'm told it could have gone better.

Citizen Dave, the people's toff, seems to be developing a nervous tic as the going gets tough and the Tory right prepares to give him a good going-over. Cameron is suffering from lizard tongue. His oral organ pops out between pursed lips at moments of stress. It's an involuntary movement: Dave's answer to Gordon Brown's rotating jaw. I can report that the Prime Monster's tongue, according to an informant who watches fascinated as it emerges and retreats, looks healthy. Must be all those tongue-lashings delivered to Downing Street staff, eh, Dave?

Sticking with Chameleon Cameron a moment, a spy passed a scowling PM as he grumbled noisily down his mobile in the subterranean corridor linking Portcullis House with Derby Gate, near the Red Lion pub. What a turn-up for the books it would be, should Cameron emerge not as the heir to Blair, but the political progeny of Brown.

EasyJet and the ever so grand Tory heavyweight Nicholas Soames make for uneasy travelling companions. Particularly when Winston Churchill's outsized grandson arrived at the airport to catch a flight to Valencia for a parliamentary jolly with what may be the first monogrammed trunk ever to be carried by a budget airline.

The mind boggles. The stocky business minister Mark Prisk is nicknamed after a cartoon character by MPs who once glimpsed him trouserless during a Westminster jaunt aboard one of Her Majesty's warships. Alas for Prisk, he isn't Superman, nor even Scooby-Doo. He's referred to as SpongeBob SquarePants. Make of that what you will.

The Labour-Wapping reconciliation goes further, with a number of Miliband's MPs receiving invitations to lunch with the News of the World editor, Colin Myler. Wisely, he wrote instead of leaving voice messages on mobiles.

The fizz has gone out of champagne sales in Strangers' Bar. MPs are sticking to beer to avoid criticism for living it up in austerity Britain. But no such inhibitions are displayed when they order a pint with a risqué name from Batemans brewery. The MPs demand: "Get me a Hooker."

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 28 February 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Toppling the tyrants

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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.