Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Guardian's Seumas Milne writes that Gordon Brown's belated assault on neoliberalism may have come too late to save his premiership:

If Labour goes down to defeat next year, it will not be the result of the slow, cautious social democratic moves the government has finally taken in the aftermath of the crisis. It will be because it failed to take so many of them in the previous 11 years - preferring instead the Faustian pact New Labour made with the Murdochs of the financial and corporate ascendancy.

In the Times, Tristram Hunt says that the Supreme Court is not an American import but an original English ideal:

[I]t marks the welcome return of an idea that first emerged in Britain in the mid-18th century: the separation of powers. And it was the Americans who stole the idea from us, thanks to the writings of an inquisitive French philosopher ... what really impressed Montesquieu was English freedom. In contrast to the fearful royal absolutism of Louis XV's France, the English enjoyed the right to worship, trade and speak their minds. And this was the direct product, Montesquieu thought, of the English constitution's separation of powers.

In the American Prospect, Tim Fernholz says that the Democrats won't suffer a repeat of their disastrous 1994 midterm election results:

[C]ongressional Republicans are still less popular than Democrats and have yet to offer any kind of platform for another shot at running the show. Worse, they are leaderless: By the end of 1993, Republican Whip Newt Gingrich and his team had already brought ethics charges against a speaker of the House that lead to his resignation, and widely publicized the House banking scandal. Today, the Republican Party remains divided and lacks the ability to attract centrist voters, while the Democrats continue to be a relatively unified majority party, with the capacity to stay that way.

In the Independent, Mark Donne calls on David Miliband to halt secretive military aid to Colombia:

The Labour government has long supported the Uribe administration, both diplomatically and militarily, and personal ties are strong. Colombia's former defence minister Juan Manuel Santos - who resigned in May and whose arrest has been ordered by an Ecuadorian court after air strikes on Ecuador - co-authored a book called The Third Way For Colombia with one Tony Blair. Under Santos'swatch, the killings of civilians and trade unionists by the security forces increased.

In the Times, Bill Emmott argues that if the Irish approve the Lisbon Treaty the Conservatives must not seek to renegotiate it:

[T}o provoke a row over a boring institutional treaty, which virtually everyone else has already agreed to, would be folly, grand scale. Indeed, if Messrs Cameron and Hague do hang on to Lisbon as one of their battles, it would raise serious doubts about their fitness for government.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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