Cameron-Harman love in as Labour prepares for a new leader

Though PM ducks questions on human trafficking and PMQs itself

There was a strangely jolly, almost flirtatious mood at Prime Minister's Questions today, as David Cameron paid tribute to Harriet Harman as a "credit" to her party. Facing Harman for the last time before the Opposition elects a new leader, Cameron joked that Labour's acting leader was the "most popular" of the three Labour leaders he has faced including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. And he reminded the House that "it's au revoir" rather than "goodbye" as Harman remains elected as deputy leader, a role in which may well see her stand in at the despatch box in the future.

Harman expressed sympathy to Cameron over the death of his father, and congratulations over the birth of his new daughter, but asked some tough questions on human trafficking. Harman urged Cameron to opt in to an EU Directive on the issue, but Cameron refused, claiming it goes no further than the Government's own plans. Harman said "I know some in his party are irrationally hostile to Europe" but that she hoped Cameron would not let them get in the way of signing up to the EU Directive. Cameron later implied he would consider arguments from Labour MPs for signing up to the directive.

In a separate and more partisan exchange, Cameron said it was "the height of irresponsibility" for shadow ministers to go to the TUC and encourage strikes amid the need for cutting the budget deficit.

Finally, Harman asked Cameron if the Tories were still enthusiastic about returning PMQs to twice a week, as they sometimes argued while in Opposition. Unsurprisingly, Cameron said he favoured a once a week session, describing that as "one of the few things" with which he fully agreed with Tony Blair.

UPDATE: The Prime Minister is wrong to say that Britain does not need to sign the EU Sex Slave Trafficking Directive, says former Europe minister, Denis MacShane, secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking.

"Last week Teresa May told me Britain would not opt in. Today the PM said he would examine the issue but claimed British laws covered all the problems. But the whole point of an EU directive is that it obliges cross-frontier cooperation and an obligation meet EU rules.

"Sex slave trafficking cannot be combatted on a nation-only basis. The Government is sending out the wrong signal by saying No to a European-wide coordinated campaign. It was sad to see Nick Clegg whispering in David Cameron's ear to provide arguments for traditional Tory Euroscepticism on EU directives.

"The campaign against sex slave trafficking will continue and many will be disappointed at the opposition of Mr Cameron to this important EU directive," MacShane added.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for 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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