Round 2 has been a knock-out punch from the pensioners. Mrs May is on the canvass.
One of the oddest things about the Conservative manifesto is that where the majority of it is quite vague and aspirational, the commitment on the reform of social care is quite specific.
We can only speculate why that is. One possible explanation is that there were deep divisions within the government as to how this should be done. So plonking a detailed commitment in the manifesto effectively committed the party to one approach and closed down the debate.
It’s a plausible explanation, because obviously there was precious little consultation with colleagues. The policy feels like an imposition by the immediate May team.
And now it has unravelled.
Voters did not necessarily know the details of what was being proposed. That’s not the point.
The plan became rapidly toxic for the Conservatives for two reasons:
– It opened itself to damning labelling – and that’s exactly what it got – ‘dementia tax’.
– It struck at a core value held dearly by the Conservative’s core vote – property ownership.
It is surprising that two such obvious flaws got through. But that is almost totally down to the explanation as to how this got included in the manifesto in the first place.
There should be a process in the manifesto compilation that checked over and again for the danger of disastrous labels – remember ‘pasty tax’? You should never give your opponents the chance to define your policy. Rule #1.
Even more surprising was the missile fired straight into the notion of property ownership. For generations, this has been central to traditional Toryism. Margaret Thatcher spoke passionately about her dream for a ‘property owning democracy’.
For traditional Conservatives there is something absolutely sacrosanct about property in the form of homes. That’s why primary homes have never been subject to capital gains tax. It’s also why the Coalition government and the 2015-17 government constantly promoted right to buy schemes, together with schemes to extend the sale of public housing.
If one concept ran like an unswerving thread through Toryism it was the devotion to property ownership and the rights and advantages that come with it – which include inheritance rights.
Property equals wealth, and the wealth should cascade. Property rights equate with the virtues that traditional Toryism espouses – thrift, wealth-creation, family.
So to propose a care reform that had at its core the ‘grab’ on homes was odd, to say the least.
That was the only feature of this policy that voters needed to know, and they got it straight away.
And clearly the impact on the Tory campaign looked potentially disastrous.
Hence the screeching u-turn today.
Now there will be a cap. We have no information about the level, or about how it will work. The May camp might have concluded that throwing in the cap would be enough to quell the revolt in the shires.
My hunch is that now the retreat is under way, the voters will come back for more. What level will the cap be set at? How will it work? Evasive answers probably won’t do.
The ending of the triple lock and the means testing of the winter fuel payment are still intact. But they too may now come under some pressure – particularly where the cut-off point will be on the fuel allowance.
This row has brought a dull campaign to life. It’s a self-inflicted blow that has made the difference, as is so often the case in elections.
Detailed policy, pulled together at the last moment, and by small circle has created a vulnerability that could so easily have been avoided.
Spotting the vulnerability, the grey vote took aim.
Breaking the rule that ‘you can’t take anything away from pensioners’ isn’t so easy after all.
Main image by British Red Cross