Yet Another Strong and Stable U-Turn

Glen Newey

That didn't last long, even by the standards of Theresa May promises. Less than four days after the launch of the Tory manifesto, with much fanfare about fairness and a Britain that works for all, May has pulled the plug on her pledge to pay for old people's care bills by forcing their heirs to sell their homes. Canvassers' feedback from the election stump indicated that the 'dementia tax' was not playing well in the shires. What was 'sensible' last Thursday is today a vote-losing raid on the nation's nest eggs.

After the manifesto launch, members of May's backing group in the press were quick to sing her praises. 'We wanted a politics of audacity. May's manifesto delivers it,' oiled Matthew d'Ancona in the Guardian. Whether this chutzpah comports happily with strength and stability is a question we no longer need to ask. The policy's gone the way of other policies brought in with a tootle on the bugle, such as German-style 'co-determination', with workers on company boards, the energy bill price cap branded 'Marxist' when Ed Miliband proposed it before the last election, the National Insurance hike for self-employed workers in the March budget, and no election till 2020. May's conviction this time last year that Brexit would plunge the UK's economic future into mortal peril belongs to the mists of prehistory.

The old policy from last Thursday converted the ceiling on state-funded social care from £23,000 to a floor of £100,000 before costs are recovered. But it extended eligible costs to include domiciliary as well as residential care, and the stand-out clause about liquidating people's homes to pay the care bill after they die has put the wind up Tory planners. It's said that the policy was brought in behind the backs of some cabinet ministers, and is another initiative by Nick Timothy, May's joint chief of staff. Critics pointed out that the policy threatened to impose a hierarchy of ailments between Alzheimer's sufferers who lived at home and hospital cancer patients. May has now decided that the edifice requires a ceiling as well as a floor, though she hasn't yet said how high this will be. Despite Jeremy Hunt's claims on the Today programme this morning, no cap on costs was mentioned in the manifesto, which rejected the one proposed by the Dilnot report.

George Osborne, for the Continuity Cameroons, has been gunning for May from his new emplacement at the Standard. This may be due in part to principled pique at having been garrotted by his old cabinet colleague when she took over last July, though he may also have a personal grievance at the policy's attack on inherited wealth – he has his family's wallpaper loot to consider. Perhaps he was miffed that the manifesto euthanased one of his brain-children, the pension triple lock. At any rate, he wasted no time tweeting about the cave-in when it was announced.

Tory planners will have been rattled by a poll over the weekend suggesting that the Conservative lead over Labour has narrowed – though it's still estimated at between 9 and 13 points. Enough feathers were ruffled at Central Office for the party to buy Google advertising so that people who searched for 'dementia tax' would be pointed towards a Tory page on ‘The so-called “dementia tax” – Get the real facts.’ It has now been taken down; apparently the real facts weren't enough.

May has pulled off yet another strong and stable U-turn. One of its effects is to keep social care, rather than Brexit, dominating the news cycle. This doesn’t help the Tories. The Economist’s nickname for the prime minister, Theresa Maybe, may be about to stick. The other two main elements of the manifesto's triple whammy against the elderly – imposing means-testing for the winter fuel allowance and downgrading the pension guarantee to a double lock – remain in place. For now.


  • 22 May 2017 at 8:11pm
    Simon Wood says:
    I wish there were more elections if it could be as funny as this piece, Glen. And only yesterday I was cursing it and didn't want another election ever again. What a long time a day in politics is, until tomorrow.

  • 23 May 2017 at 6:09am
    Joe Morison says:
    It is nowhere as severe as Trump, but she gives the impression of someone who has been promoted way beyond her competency. One of those people who has no intellectual imagination or curiosity but works incredibly hard at school, gets very good results and then does Geography at university. Again, it is not as bad as Trump’s, but like Trump it appears that it is her overweening vanity that makes her blind to this.

    There are many apposite nicknames, Theresa Me and Theresa Maybe are excellent; but in my mind, she is just Mediocre.

  • 23 May 2017 at 9:22am
    martyn94 says:
    A bizarre episode. May, being who she is and where she is an MP for, must be even more aware than most of her colleagues how much her supporters value the right to pass on their untaxed capital gains to their heirs while sending their bills to the rest of us.

    It was, very briefly, touted as a sign of her bravery and some compensation for the elective dictatorship she will soon assume. It turns out just to have been carelessness. God help us all.

  • 23 May 2017 at 9:36am
    martyn94 says:
    It will be interesting to see how "dementia tax" plays out. A stroke of genius, despite, or perhaps because of, being wholly irrelevant to huge numbers of badly-served demented people. I guess that it will make any sort of rational policy - cap, floor or anything else - politically impossible for years to come, if not for ever.

    • 24 May 2017 at 12:05pm
      Stu Bry says: @ martyn94
      It is the Conservative Party and their cohort who have made the only rational policy impossible. What we need is a fair and consistent inheritance tax which taxes inherited wealth at the same rate as earned income.

      The targeted lowering of elite taxes (capital gains, corporation, inheritance) is one of many examples of this US influenced iteration of the Tory party's extreme ideology.

    • 24 May 2017 at 5:51pm
      martyn94 says: @ Stu Bry
      What on earth use is it to say that what we need (and I agree, in theory) is utterly unachievable?

    • 25 May 2017 at 9:03am
      Stu Bry says: @ martyn94
      It is at the moment impossible.

      Due to economic policies that has left people relying on inherited wealth for security and a media that created a false impression of the financial position of the median UK population any proposed increase in inheritance tax is political suicide.

      The fact that media are not drawing parallels between the Tories recently lifting the inheritance tax exception to £1 million for couples then proposing this punitive and regressive care system immediately afterwards shows how far we are more balanced coverage.

  • 23 May 2017 at 2:50pm
    Martha12345 says:
    Blimey, why be so snooty about those that study geography! Kropotkin did and as far as I can make out he wasn't such a bore.

    • 24 May 2017 at 4:34am
      Joe Morison says: @ Martha12345
      Didn't he read mathematics with the geography more as a hobby? (I don't want to disrespect Geography, though; I'm sure it's a wonderful subject.)

  • 23 May 2017 at 8:20pm
    Simon Wood says:
    I agree. I like Geography. I say to my daughters when we're driving, "Look out of the window not at your screens, there's Geography everywhere. Geography is about how people live and why they live where. It's human life from the ground up." Theresa May just needs to jolly up her Geography lectures a bit, like Corbyn should jolly up his Sociology lectures.

  • 23 May 2017 at 9:04pm
    Graucho says:
    Is it called the dementia tax because May forgot that the preponderance of home owners vote Tory ?

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