Chairman May Achieves the Impossible! Daily Mail/Corbynista Unity
There is a scene in the 1980s comedy Yes, Minister where Sir Humphrey accuses of Jim Hacker of one of the worst government decisions he has ever witnessed. The minister replies that he has just made one of the best political decisions of his life.
It may be that Theresa May has just made one of the worst political decisions of her premiership. “Dementia Tax!” screamed Paul Dacre at May’s plans on social care.
Politics might be the art of the possible but May did something impossible: she united the Corbynite left with The Daily Mail. Next week she will reveal a flying pig.
Perhaps she hoped that in an election about Brexit nobody would notice. Perhaps she thought Jeremy Corbyn so toxic that it was worth the risk. Or no risk at all.
If so, she has been proven wrong. With a ruthlessness reminiscent of New Labour at its finest, John McDonnell savaged her plans.
However, Corbynistas getting excited at Labour’s leap in the polls should be careful: much of that support is soft. There is the possibility of dead cats. And the trouble is that Jeremy Corbyn does not so much have skeletons in his closet as a whole graveyard.
It could be that May is doing is what voters allegedly want from politicians. She was elected in 1997 and saw a wary Tony Blair protect every chance he had of re-election by hoarding his political capital. May has political capital and she intends to spend it.
Because whisper it quietly, let’s caveat it cautiously, there are usually not just devils but demons in the details: broadly speaking, the Prime Minister is not just being brave but she is being progressive.
This policy is an inheritance tax by stealth
Page 67 of the Conservative manifesto announced a change in the way social care was to be funded. First, they raised the allowance for the part funding of residential and nursing care from assets and savings of £23,250 to £100,000, meaning that more elderly people will get to keep more of their nest eggs or pass it onto to children. But what May gave with one hand she took with another. While pensioners are expected to contribute towards residential care, they are not expected to domiciliary care: May’s plan changes that.
It is perfectly possible to defend this as righting an unfairness in the system. Why should one service be free and the other not? The purpose of both remains the same. The attacks also neglect that many elderly people already part pay for their in-house care upfront. By waiting until the person in receipt of care has passed on before the money is taken, no pensioner will be made homeless or suffer.
Potentially, by increasing the number of pensioners who downsize from family homes, the policy increases the supply of larger homes on the market and makes a small step to correct a wrong. Also, assuming that bereaved partners are not forced to sell assets upon the death of loved ones (the devil in the detail, yes?) then the Conservative policy is shifting the burden to after life.
It is both Conservative and Socialist at the same time.
And if the hysteria seems somewhat familiar, that it because it has only been two years since Labour were attacked for proposing a Death Tax. Yes, by the Conservatives. Labour supporters who ignored scaremongering in 2015 have suddenly found their inner Paul Dacre. It’s quite bourgeois.
This policy is an inheritance tax by stealth.
May is storing up a whole load of trouble for herself
It is perhaps too much to expect maturity in the middle of a general election campaign. But the Conservatives have been accused of neglecting the £2bn black hole in the social care budget, they have also been accused of favouring the rich in their policies. The policy is far from perfect: those who tax plan will continue to do so; the cost of care and houses varies across local authorities and the countries.
However, it does plug the funding gap and does not penalise the poorest. I repeat, May’s plan increases protected assets to £100,000. That is the new level.
It is profoundly unConservative in making those who have saved pay. No solution is perfect and someone has to pay. However, the generation currently affected is one that will receive more from the Welfare State than succeeding generations, who will be statistically net contributors to not receivers of state generosity. And the elderly will not pay in their lifetime.
How is a universal 1p income tax increase (as proposed by the Lib Dems) fairer - thus making it a little harder to save for a house - than making those in receipt of care pay after they have died? Currently approximately two-thirds of pensioners own their own home, while younger generations face falling levels of home ownership.
The attacks from the right have credibility and it may be that May is storing up a whole load of trouble for herself with this policy. She can legitimately now say, should she win, that she has a mandate for it. But that might not save the policy from self-interest.
Labour’s attacks, extraordinarily from the political right, are opportunistic and intellectually sly. Labour are opposing a tax on the wealthy and have become greater defenders of inherited wealth than the Conservative and Unionist Party. That's equality for you, comrade
Yes, bad politics but that does not mean bad policy. Chairman May just made this election interesting though.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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