I suggested that Theresa May was taking a bold risk, that might backfire, by imposing a manifesto solution on social care cost crisis in the middle of a General Election campaign. My has it backfired. I am not convinced, from my own soundings this weekend, that this was playing out on the doorsteps quite as badly as some imply – and the polls over the weekend and today’s ICM poll seem to show no discernible loss of support among older people – but a fine calculation had to be made about whether it was best to stand by a policy that had stickily been dubbed a “dementia tax” or to take the hit and execute a “u-turn”. It is hard to know what the impact this will have on May’s leadership credentials. Will the public admire her for making a pragmatic retreat or condemn her recklessness of including a policy that couldn’t survive a weekend ? The polls in a few days will be very interesting.
What is not in doubt is that original policy, although imperfect, was progressive and any revised version (with a cap to be consulted upon) is likely to be costly and regressive. Corbynites rhapsodising about a u-turn that can only benefit boomers sitting on £1 million properties is something to behold.
As a footnote to the debacle of this pledge it does strike me that had the Tories found a way of fortifying this welcome attempt to deal with intergenerational inequality with some clear offer, perhaps on housing or education maintenance allowance, to young people it might have mitigated the risk.
So what else is behind the halving of the Tory lead over the past week?
Many theories have been posited, here are my hunches.
Corbyn eschewed the caution of Miliband’s 2015 manifesto and the received wisdom of pundits that if Labour was too left wing two years ago it could hardly succeed by being even more left wing. He seems, for now, to have been proved right. This has gifted his campaign a suite of popular retail policies, notably on tuition fees and train nationalisation, that are playing really well on the doorstep. Strikingly, the Tory campaign has been weak at fisking Labour’s spending plans and they have compounded this in their own manifesto which, for all it cerebral Burkean framing, has little in the way of comparable saleable polices.
A second issue that seems to be declining is the saliency of Brexit. It does seem that the public have had enough of Brexit even before the negotiations begin in ernest. The Tories have made little of their pledges on immigration and given the premise of this election was to strengthen May’s hand in the negotiations the lack of focus on on Brexit is bewildering.
That Corbyn is being asked more questions about the IRA than the EU is all you need to know about surreal state of this general election.
But what both manifestos have illuminated is a now bedrock dictum of British politics: don’t mess with the middle class. For all Corbyn’s radical intent he has still chosen to restore tuition fees, mostly benefiting the middle class rather than unfreeze benefits for the working poor and May for all her good intentions has rescinded a policy that would have imposed the biggest hit on southern English property owners.
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The coming weeks are going to get very Brexity and the Tories will finally take their gloves off. If I am wrong, and they fail, then this election might yet provide us with an outcome almost no one was expecting.