Sixty years ago, Albert Einstein was offered the presidency of Israel

Einstein declined, saying he lacked "the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people" to do the job.

The excellent Letters of Note blog has unearthed yet another fascinating missive - the exchange of letters in which David Ben-Gurion offered Albert Einstein the presidency of Israel. Here's the letter containing Ben-Gurion's offer:

(You can read a transcript at Letters of Note)

Einstein responded, declining the office, citing his age, and saying that he felt he lacked "natural aptitude and the experience" to deal with people.

His closing remark is both extremely humble and extremely moving:

I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.

With conflict once again raging in the region, I can't help wondering - how would history have been different if Albert Einstein had accepted the presidency of Israel?

Albert Einstein in 1931. Portrait by Doris Ulmann, via WikiCommons

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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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.