Denis menaced by Gallic spooks

Wild talk that Tommy "Gun" Watson issued a hacking fatwa on the News of the World in a great Talibrown conspiracy - in which Big Gordie and the boys extracted revenge for Rupert Murdoch's papers having switched sides and backed the Tories - is wide of the mark. This battle is personal. My snouts mutter that Tommy Gun is fired up by the memory of a sustained campaign by the then editor of the Sun (and now Wapping head honcho), Rebekah Brooks, to force Brown to sack the Labour minister who organised the riot that toppled her hero Tony Blair. Brooks, who has since transferred her affections to her dinner-party guest David Cameron, may regret phoning Sarah Brown to demand that her hubby sack Watson. This Labour MP has never struck your correspondent as a backbencher to nurse a grudge. Tommy Gun prefers to get even.

The public castration of Richard Keys, the Sky Sports sexist who fell to earth, is a further reminder that revenge is a dish best served cold. The stadium-packing audience dancing on his broadcasting grave included technicians who never forgave off-Keys crossing the TV-am picket line 24 years ago. Relieved rather than gleeful was Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, when union records showed that Keys's NUJ membership lapsed in 1990. To be required to represent the author of the line "Do me a favour, love" would've proved a test too far for Dear.

The anti-electoral-reform brigade showed some brass neck in bleating about spending by the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign when the No to AV mob doesn't appear short of a few bob itself. An evening soirée at the New Bond Street swanky premises of Bonhams, international purveyors of expensive art to the seriously loaded, suggests big money behind the first-past-the-posters. Feeling flush, too, is Cameron's party. Tory HQ rejected the £2,000 application of Conservatives for AV - presumably a small group - to take a stall at next month's Tory spring gathering in Cardiff.

The one-time Europe minister Denis MacShane has topped last week's tale of Gordon Brown being warned by a French politico that the Paris security services eavesdropped on the Scot's calls. Denis the Menace was told by a Gallic minister how, if he used his mobile across the Channel, a transcript would be available in French within 15 minutes. Makes Glenn Mulcaire sound like an amateur.

Furtive to the very end, Dave's non-revolving spinner Andy "I Knew Nothing" Coulson told staff he'd be hacked off if news of his last day in Downing Street leaked out. Valuing personal privacy, Coulson wanted to slink away unnoticed. That's what I call an irony.

Nick Clegg would be a good minister to work for if he knocked off by 3pm, but three Cameroon grumblers are earning an unenviable Whitehall reputation. The middle-rankers Nick Herbert and Greg Clark, plus Jim Naughtie's bête noire, Jeremy Hunt, are resented. Apparently they all shout when the going gets tough.

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 07 February 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The New Arab Revolt

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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.