‘Fiery Farron’ will fight false Mayism – but so may leading Tories

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron was given a new title by the Mail on Sunday. Under the striking large-caps headline, THE WRATH OF FIERY FARRON, Tim was reported as  fired up to denounce the Tory manifesto declaration that the value of people’s homes will be taken into account in future to help pay for extensive home care. People will only be able to safeguard £100,000 of their total assets, including their home. ‘If you have dementia’, Tim is said to have told the Mail journalist Simon Walters, ‘Theresa May is coming for you. Your house is up for grabs.’ He said it showed the hardness of May and her party. ‘She’s making the Tories nastier than ever.’

This is the Prime Minister who pledged herself when taking office last July to ‘a vision of a country that works not for the privileged few but that works for every one of us.’ Here is a May policy which seems likely to dismay every modest home-owner in England and Wales who contemplates retirement without much other wealth, in fear now that the lottery of life may make them or their partner housebound with long-term illness.

Mayism in practice already seems far from the Prime Minister’s vision. Inflation has reached its highest level in almost four years, with consumer prices at 2.7% now rising faster than earnings at 2.3%. As always, it will be the poorest families who suffer most, with the greater part of their income going on necessities including food and energy. And there is no relief proposed in the Tory manifesto for families on frozen or reduced benefits, already suffering from the government’s austerity programme. Instead, pensioners will lose the present guarantee of a 2.5% annual rise in their pensions, and primary-school children are to be denied their nutritious free school lunches, reversing policies initiated by the Liberal Democrat ministers in the Coalition government.

Yet Theresa May’s philosophy, as spelt out in the Tory manifesto, includes the statement, ‘We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality. We see rigid dogma and ideology not just as needless but dangerous,’

As the old saying goes, Fine words butter no parsnips. There is nothing in the practices of this Tory government to benefit the ‘Just about managing’ who are supposed to be the object of Mrs May’s concern, nor any proposals likely to reduce the ever-growing inequality of our society. There are not even proper costings of what proposals there are.

Liberal Democrats may thus condemn Mayism as seen so far as false. She herself denies that Mayism exists, having stated that instead there is ‘good, solid conservatism which puts the interest of the country and the interests of ordinary working people at the heart of everything we do in government.’ A tempting response is, Bah, humbug! But, notably, senior members of Mrs May’s Conservative party are uneasy about her stance, appearing to believe it is indeed a new development or ‘ism’ which is not necessarily welcome. Historian Andrew Roberts writes in the Sunday Mail that the development is ‘alarming traditional Tories like me’, suggesting that the manifesto ‘fires shot after shot at the philosophy of Toryism’, and, curiously, describing Mrs May as a Conservative but not a Tory. He asserts that ‘the individual, not the community let alone the State…has produced the advances that have secured the dignity of man’, and calls ‘social division’ ‘the natural state of society’. Analysis in The Times on Friday also maintained that May’s philosophy ‘puts clear blue water’ between her and her predecessors.

Perhaps we shall see conservatism red in tooth and claw emerge again before long, as it did in the back-stabbing and defenestrations of last summer. But meantime Liberal Democrats can show the cruel inadequacies of government policies and manifesto commitments, with their failure to protect and promote people’s well-being in health and services, education, environment and much else.

Even if good ideas are put forward, it is impossible to trust this Prime Minister who has changed course so rapidly and so frequently and is pursuing a fantastic Brexit outcome to deliver them. She has made of herself a presidential figure in contradiction of our democracy, and possibly flies, like her predecessor, too close to the sun. Our own leader by contrast shows a steady consistency of determined purpose, and so, unlike the others, is not for turning.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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  • Peter Martin 22nd May '17 - 12:21pm

    ” Inflation has reached its highest level in almost four years, with consumer prices at 2.7%”

    Prices have risen mainly because of the fall in the pound. UK prices themselves are fairly constant. Do we have inflation whenever the pound falls and deflation whenever it rises? I don’t know the answer to that question BTW! I’m open to suggestions.

    The conventional wisdom is that the pound fell because of Brexit. But is the conventional wisdom correct? The Governor of the BoE, Mark Carney, had previously been under some pressure because inflation had been too low. The Government sets a target, and it is a target and not an upper limit, of 2%. The BoE, via its MPC, is supposed then to adjust interest rates to hit it. It lowered them to 0.25% last year in an attempt to do this but it wasn’t enough. Any further reduction could create negative interest rates which is politically problematical.

    What if someone in the BoE thought that a quick way to achieve the 2% target was to force down the pound? They can always do this any time they like by issuing extra currency into the market. Via QE or other technical ways.

    So what date would they choose to do this? The day before the referendum when it would be obvious to everyone that the BoE had made a market intervention? Or the day after, when the pound’s fall could blamed on Brexit?

  • Ruth Bright 22nd May '17 - 1:05pm

    If you have dementia they are coming for you…and thus we shroud-wave our way to a lot of target letters maligning a progressive policy. Does anyone think of people in my old job (Dementia caseworker) who have to field calls about the “dementia tax” from really frightened people? No I didn’t think so.

  • Sue Sutherland 22nd May '17 - 1:19pm

    Ruth, I noticed that you had described this as a progressive policy in another post but it is based on a health lottery so I can’t see it as in any way Liberal. If we want to redistribute wealth in order to finance polices aimed at helping the poor and weak in our society (and I do) then there are fairer ways of doing it.

  • There’s plenty wrong with the Tory manifesto proposals on social care, but much of the opposition to it (from Labour and Lib Dems) comes across as little more than defending the interests of the sharp elbowed affluent middle classes.

    Calling May a “witch” doesn’t answer the question of how to adequately fund social care.

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd May '17 - 2:19pm

    @arneig – Eh? I was thinking of Icarus not of witches! And not only is our leader of working-class background, but we naturally fight for people of all classes. Are you aware of the party policy on welfare passed at last September’s Federal Conference,? It proposes greater support for children in families drawing benefits, and states, ‘These policies would be funded by abolishing the marriage tax allowance and removing winter fuel allowances and free TV licences from wealthier Pensioners.’

  • @arnieg. The sharp elbowed affluent middle classes may be among those worried by May’s threat to take their home, but so are thousands of working class and lower middle class folk who never had an expensive foreign holiday or a flash car, but instead decided to put their money into their home in the hope of passing something of value on to their children. All of this is, of course, irrelevant to the seriously rich who can pay for later life care out of petty cash.
    At the risk of being trolled (what, here on LDV ?) can I suggest that John Major’s hope that wealth would “cascade down the generations” is based on a good liberal principal. For what is the alternative, that we are all impoverished and dependant on the state ?

  • Ruth Bright 22nd May '17 - 6:32pm

    Sue – as someone with a high genetic risk of dementia it seems to me fair enough that one day 100K of my 200K little house could go to the state for my care and 100K to my kids.

    The press office have done a wonderful job in this campaign hitherto but our “Cathy Come Home” tone on social care, implying that people with dementia are going to be ruined or their spouses thrown on the street is not right.

  • What is the Lib Dem alternative to the so-called Dementia Tax. The £6bn for NHS is going to be spread awfully thin if it is to cover care costs.

    There is a vague and uncosted line in the manifesto about moving towards free end-of-life social care. I don’t see how that can be meaningful in the absence of costings and as it was dropped as a policy in 2010 as it was too expensive.

  • Laurence Cox 22nd May '17 - 8:40pm

    It is quite clear that we have to pay for social care somehow and that means raising taxes. The fairest way is for everyone to pay a small amount rather than those who get dementia losing their homes, while those who get cancer are treated free of charge by the NHS. Both are diseases and sufferers should be treated equally. One simple way of raising additional funding would be to remove the upper age limit on paying National Insurance contributions. Indeed I would go further and integrate National Insurance into income tax as part of a programme of equalising taxation on all sources of income.

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd May '17 - 9:36pm

    It wasn’t the Lib Dems, Hywel, who wanted to drop the 2010 commitment. The Tories have made a pretty good job of ditching the Lib Dem policies which were offering everyone, not just the rich, a decent life; and if some are sustained, such as the amount people can earn before taxation – £10,000 originally, now I think rising to £12,500 – the Tories claim them as their own idea. In the case of social care, I presume we should go back to the Andrew Dilnott proposals.
    Good that we can point out Tim’s and the party’s consistency of policies now to compare with such a glaring example of May’s inconsistency today.

  • Little Jackie Paper 22nd May '17 - 9:44pm

    Chris Cory – ‘can I suggest that John Major’s hope that wealth would “cascade down the generations” is based on a good liberal principal.’

    There is wealth and there is wealth. Asset hyperinflation of positional goods is not what I would see as in any way liberal. Having said hyperinflated assets compound inequality over generations is similarly not something I would see as liberal.

    I know that a lot of people don’t like it but May has a point. We can argue about the virtues of family wealth ending up with banks/insurance companies/private care home owners. We can argue about the limits, both financial and otherwise of the NHS and we can argue about state support to carers. However wealth is wealth, whether it is in a house, cash, jewels, vintage cars or anything else.

    If I have some reservations about May’s policy I’m not any the more impressed by those who tacitly seem to argue that house price wealth is somehow ‘different.’

  • “It wasn’t the Lib Dems, Hywel, who wanted to drop the 2010 commitment.”

    It was pre 2010 – the policy was to make social care free and was dropped as part of the review of party policies to only keep ones that were affordable. That happened before the election even came along.

    The more limited policy was costed out at £2bn (in 2008) so will take at least 1/3rd – maybe as much as a half, of the £6bn hypothecated for NHS and care. Suddenly that doesn’t look like very much (and it isn’t – had NHS funding increased at 75% of the historic average in the coalition years the NHS budget would now be way more than £6bn more in real terms).

    “In the case of social care, I presume we should go back to the Andrew Dilnott proposals.”
    The manifesto is not clear on that.

    @Laurence Cox – there is a lot in that idea in terms of a sensible tax system. I would tentatively suggest that an 11% tax hike for pensioners isn’t going to feature in any party’s manifesto whilst pensioners vote in the sort of numbers they currently do 🙂

  • Ruth Bright 23rd May '17 - 9:05am

    Hywel’s analysis of the (very daunting) numbers is most helpful. A billion is needed just to bring salaries in social care up to the living wage.

  • I am impressed with Will Hutton pointing out that we have an enormous on-shore tax-haven in the fact that housing has not been revalued for council tax purposes for a long time, and if it were, and charge bands raised appropriately, local authorities could have a much improved income stream. This could kick in at an early date, whereas the confiscation of sale funds (bar £100,000) could take years to have an effect. Many of the same people would be involved, but it would be less vicious and more efficient. Now if the housing shortage and the consequent housing inflation were to be dealt with, the goose that lays the golden eggs would be killed off…..but dream on.

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