Forget the polls for once - just do the right thing

We need a Beveridge-style response from the coalition to help deal with care for Britain's looming c

Months ago, I was asked about the political implications of the Dilnot review into care in old age for the government. My instincts were that enough tough policy issues - tuition fees, structural deficit, pensions in the public sector - had already been brought out of the long grass by the coalition.My fear, however, was that this issue was too controversial and that it should probably stay in the long grass. This is an instinct it would appear I share with George Osborne, according to the Observer yesterday. If the reports are true, both of us are right for political reasons but wrong for policy reasons.

With the number of centenarians projected to rise from 11,000 in 2008 to 80,000 in 2033, this is a debate that ran out of time well before the last general election. Whatever Andrew Cooper's private polling in Number 10 says, this is a moment when there is a moral obligation for all politicians to find agreement, not a time to worry about the headlines.

By definition, this is a public policy issue that will not go away. It is an issue that needs, if anything, a Beveridge-style response that combines realistic policies now, with changes that will have far reaching impact. It is a policy issue that needs to meet the demographic challenges which will hit as the baby boomers begin to retire and more costs for social care are borne by fewer working taxpayers.

What is almost unique about this problem is that the vast majority of charities, voluntary sector and private sector in this area are all begging for reform and minded to be supportive of the Dilnot conclusions. Above all they are united in their view that any delay is unsustainable.

Sadly the front page of the Observer gave us a clue about the dangers of how this issue will play out.

They could have headlined their story in several ways:

"Andrew Dilnot on verge of historic (Beveridge-style) breakthough on funding of care in old age"

"Top charities write to Prime Minister demanding support for new scheme to fund old age"

"Labour announces they are willing to work with Coalition Government to resolve old age funding"

Instead their headline was "Middle class face £35,000 bill to help pay for care in their old age".In other words, quite understandably, they thought: let's sell papers not let's improve policy. Headlines like this will cause George Osborne and David Cameron to panic, they will fear that it heralds a "death tax" approach to old age care. It will fail to recognise that the middle classes already pay with no limit; that the cost of care in old age has already risen to an average of £50,000; that almost one in five who need residential care after the age of 65 face a bill of more than £100,000.

Add to that the debate about local authority social care funding that Age UK has kicked off today and we start to see an all too obvious repeat of the fury caused by the health reforms.

But this is different. Funding of care for older people has been kicked into the long grass by successive governments, even in 1997 with an overwhelming majority Tony Blair's attempts to resolve this failed.

If the media wish to take a view, it should be to make it a duty for politicians to work together to solve this. The alternative is grim. The number of people forced to sell their homes to fund residential care the number will be far higher. One in four people will continue to believe that Government will provide for their old age - when even under the present system the state offers help with care costs to people in England only if they have savings and assets of less than £23,250. Hardly anyone uses any kind of saving system to prepare for their old age, and if they do there is no certainty about the likely costs they will face.

If Number 10 return this issue to the long grass they will be disappointed: the grass burnt to the ground some time ago. There is no hiding place from this critical issue. Therefore this is a moment to shred the polls, and decide what you believe in, Beveridge didn't need opinion polls, on this occasion neither does David Cameron.

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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.