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The Tories have U-turned on the 'Dementia Tax'


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‘The lady’s not for turning.’ So once said a strong and stable lady. Well, today’s ‘strong and stable’ lady is very much for turning, having scrapped the most controversial of her manifesto commitments.

There are a great many reasons I could never survive as a politician. Whilst more than capable of waffling dishonestly (otherwise known as ‘bullshitting’; I study philosophy, after all), I do credit myself with a certain amount of integrity. And I have a sense of humour, which is very much against the rules. That it is a cruel one only adds to my unsuitability.

I could not have argued for a Dementia Tax, for example, the reform to adult social care announced in the Conservative Party manifesto four days ago and now euthanised.

This is not just because the policy is absurd. Looked at in a certain way, it might even have benefited a large number of poorer pensioners, for the proposal to raise the capital floor to £100,000, and to add the value of their property to the calculation, disproportionately affects those whose estates are worth more. (That things then become exceedingly difficult, with ambiguities over such issues as cohabiting pensioners, inheritance for live-in carers and the like, is testimony to the stunning lack of forethought with which the policy was drafted.)

Naturally, this could not be allowed to stand, as the people most affected by the proposed change would have been the group on whom the Conservatives rely to win elections: rich-ish old people.

Curious that Theresa May should have forgotten this. Perhaps therein lies another reason for the U-turn; I can think of few politicians who would happily impose a tax upon themselves.

Beyond that, and given the considerable lead Ms May continues to enjoy in the polls, I can think of only two reasons for the U-turn: a) the reaction has been so monumentally negative that it presented a real electoral risk, and/or b) opposition from within the party is significant.

And a brutally honest apologist for the policy might have felt compelled to point out that there is little harm in imposing a tax on people who will not remember being wronged. An equally honest critic of the policy would have had to reply that collecting tax is often a difficult business, even without the added complications presented by its imposition on people who might forget to pay it. Either way, it has been undone by those who stubbornly remembered to attack it on the doorstep.

(Full disclosure: my mother does sterling work as a music therapist, and in her role as a director of the Tibbs Dementia Foundation. They do an annual barn dance, the incongruity of which never ceases to delight me. For it is crucial to a barn dance that one remembers the steps… Regardless, exposure to it affords me the right to laugh, for the only alternative is tears.)

Regardless, and in a rare overcoming of bad taste, we have many reasons to be thankful. The demise of this policy should serve as reminder to our inevitably re-elected Prime Minister that the support she presently enjoys is conditional. It should serve as a reminder to her staff that they cannot afford to be entirely frivolous , and that wider consultation over proposals may seem inconvenient but is nevertheless the duty of a responsible premier. And it suggests that the opposition is not entirely powerless.

At present, the best we can reasonably hope for is that the election returns only a modest majority government. May’s style of leadership and administration is one which invites dissent from the official opposition and from members of her own party and from the general public. I am inclined to suspect that, win though she may, the turning lady’s reign will be marked by insecurity. But for the consequences we shall have to wait and see. And remember.

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