On Thursday, Theresa May declared that her manifesto included “the first ever proper plan to pay for – and provide – social care”. Her ministers went out to defend the proposals, which would make pensioners contribute more to the cost of their care. Damian Green told Andrew Marr that the Tory Party had “ devised a better system” that wouldn’t need a cap on care costs as advised by Sir Andrew Dilnot, while Jeremy Hunt explained to the Today programme last week that the Tories were “completely explicit” about the fact that they were “dropping” the idea of a cap as “we don’t think it’s fair”.
Both men will now need to change what they say about the plans, dubbed the “dementia tax” by critics, as Mrs May announced this morning that they would be amended to include an “absolute limit” on the amount people will be asked to pay as part of the consultation on how they would be implemented. The initial reaction from journalists is best summarised by Michael Crick, who asked the Prime Minister: “ As Margaret Thatcher might have said – or didn’t say – you turn if you want to, the lady is for turning. Doesn’t this show you are really weak and wobbly, not strong and stable?”
The Conservatives won’t enjoy being mocked over this U-turn, but there are positives in having reacted quickly to stem the controversy. Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund, writes on the Telegraph that her change of tack “creates a welcome breathing space to consider funding options with the care and attention they need and deserve”. The pound also recovered on the currency markets after the U-turn was announced, after falling in wake of a YouGov survey suggesting that Labour had halved the Tories’ poll lead.
Team May can now try to refocus the debate on big issues like who the public trusts most on Brexit, a question I’ve noted Mrs May triumphs easily on. But their efforts to move the agenda on could be marred this evening when the Prime Minister faces the BBC’s interrogation rottweiler Andrew Neil. Will he force her to put a number on what the social care cap would be? Could he make it awkward for her in other ways? We’ll be analysing the interview online once it is broadcast tonight.
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