We may just have passed a turning point, here. I mean, I still think the Tories are going to win, and increase their majority. But I think, after this weekend, the electoral oblivion that threatened Labour may just have receded. A bit.
It’s kind of hard to overstate just how awful this entire dementia tax debacle has been, and continues to be, for the Tories as a whole and May in particular. It’s a failure and error on just about every level. Let’s take it one strand at a time.
- It’s bad policy. Let’s start there. Whacking dementia sufferers who have the good fortune to own a house worth over £100,000 with a bill that will wipe out the remainder of the inheritance they’d hope to leave their children, while their neighbour who dies of cancer loses not a single penny is obviously grotesquely unfair. Worse, by highlighting this, the Tories have highlighted the policy nonsense that is separating ‘social care’ from the rest of the NHS budget, ringfencing one while plundering and ravaging the other. This has always been a nonsense - but suddenly, through such a brazenly unfair policy, that nonsense is on clear display even to people for whom this would normally seem to be abstract policy discussion.
It’s really kind of amazing. By creating such an obviously insane and gross policy, the entire lunacy of pretending social care is somehow not a vital service has been thrown into sharp relief. The Tories have managed to do something Labour haven’t been able to do in a generation - put the notion that social care should fall under NHS jurisdiction back on the table. If Labour are smart, they’ll jump on this in the next week or so. It’s natural Labour ground, and it’s lock step with foundational Labour principles.
- Amazingly, the U-Turn makes the policy even worse.
Sidebar: Yes, it is a bloody U-Turn. The manifesto makes no mention of a cap, and on Sunday Hunt was out there on the morning programs explicitly ruling out a cap. Saying today that there will be a cap is not clarifying - it’s a change of policy. Words mean things. This is a U-Turn, and to U-Turn on a manifesto commitment within a few days of issuing it is, actually, unprecedented. We’ll come back to that.
Why is the cap worse than no cap? Because a cap represents, effectively, a tax break for those who could most afford to pay more.
Let’s illustrate why with a thought experiment. We’ll use round numbers for ease of calculation. Obviously we don’t know what the cap will be, because it’s only just been wished into existence by May and she hasn’t made that bit up yet, so I feel fairly guiltless making it up myself instead. The point is not the exact numbers, but the principle they demonstrate.
So, pensioner A - we’ll call him Jeremy - owns a house worth £200,000,and has no savings. He gets dementia, but is assessed and can get in home care. That home care will cost (say) a capped figure of £50,000 a year (the care itself costs £70,000, with the gap made up by the taxpayer). Under this policy, within two years of home care, he will be leaving only half the value of his home to his kids, with the rest eaten up by his care.
Pensioner B - we’ll call her Teresa - has done very well for herself. She’s sitting on a stately pile worth £1,000,000, and has another £750,000 in savings. She is also diagnosed with dementia and given home care. With the annual cap, she’ll have to live for 25 years before her kids are disinherited by the same amount as Jeremy’s kids. Additionally, with the cap, she’s also being subsidised for her care, even though she’s rolling in it.
Meanwhile, pensioner C - we’ll call him Tim - is diagnosed with cancer of the policy, and pays not a single penny for his unsuccessful treatments under the NHS. His kids get every penny of his £300,000 house and whatever.
See? It’s bonkers. May has pulled of the seemingly impossible - she’s made a bad policy worse while executing a U-Turn, while denying she’s U-Turned. Which leads us to…
- This election has been branded as being all about leadership. There’s a reason May is answering every question with the words ‘strong and stable’ - it’s what the pollsters tell her people want to hear. And it’s easy to see why. Even ardent Brexiteers are going to be feeling a little apprehensive as to how that process is going to play out, and for the 48%, it’s bloody terrifying. Strong and stable? Blimey, that’d be nice, could do with a spot of that right now.
But U-Turning on a manifesto pledge within four days of announcing it? Do you know how often that’s happened? I’ll give you a clue, it’s happened NEVER. Literally, never. So that would be ‘strong and stable’ in the sense of ‘shits the bed at the first sign of trouble’, then.
But hang on, it gets worse. Because what's behind the ‘strong and stable’ pitch is this: Only a May led Conservative government can be trusted to deliver a favourable Brexit for Britain.
How credible does that pitch look now, when she’s made a massive U-Turn on a manifesto commitment after 4 days? What does it tell the European leaders she’ll have to negotiate with about her ability to really stick to her guns when the negotiations get tough?
Especially when - and I can hardly believe I’m typing this - her opponent is Jeremy Corbyn.
Because, say what you like about JC - I’ve said a fair bit of it myself over the last few years - but the one charge you can never level at him is a lack of conviction. This is a man who has won two landslide victories for leadership in the last two years, and in the process stood up to basically the entire parliamentary Labour party. And why? Out of a commitment to the voters who put him in change, and the changes they wanted to see.
Just think about that for a second. Think about the guts and strength of character that takes. And then to put up with week after week after week of shitty polling data and endless tabloid smears about every aspect of his character and how he was going to bury Labour for a generation, and to look at all of that and say ‘this is what I believe, and this is what the people who voted for me want me to do’, and just stand tall.
How does a man like that approach a challenge like Brexit? Who do you really think has the better chance of securing a good deal - the Tory who is clearly on the side of the wealthy and against the poor, whose response to dropping to a mere 9 point lead is to actually U-Turn on a manifesto commitment - or a man who has always stood foursquare by his beliefs in a fairer and more just society for all?
Because, look, Brexit is going to happen. I don’t like saying it, and you probably don’t like reading it, but it is. Remain lost, and that’s it. And both of the main parties are committed to implementing Brexit. Given that, leavers have no reason to shun Labour, and to my fellow remainders, I say: given that reality, the question of who leads us out is absolutely crucial.
Because I agree with the Tories about one thing - this election is about leadership. It’s about who will lead this nation through its most dramatic political upheaval in more than a generation. This is not a job for those who panic at the first sign of political difficulties, who are swayed by minute to minute polls to abandon principle and make ill thought out policy U-Turns.
It’s a job for a leader of principle who knows right from wrong, and will be guided by that principle. A leader who can stand up to powerful vested interests, including from within their own party if needs me, in order to serve the democratic will of the people.
Strong. Stable. Principled. On the side of the workers, the strivers, the just-getting-by. I’d say we’ve found that leader, in this campaign.
By their works shall ye know them.