Why the hunting ban must be defended

Labour is right to expose the Tories' plan to reverse the ban.

In the column that led to his sacking as editor of the Today programme, Rod Liddle wrote that while voters may have forgotten why they supported Labour in 1997, they would remember once they saw the sort of people campaigning for fox-hunting.

Seven years on from that column, and exactly five years on from the hunting ban, Hilary Benn is hoping that Liddle's prediction is still correct. In a piece for today's Guardian, he mounts a vigorous defence of the ban and attacks the Tories' plans to reverse it.

Over at the Telegraph, David Hughes is distressed that the Environment Secretary can't find anything better to do with his time than reopen the hunting debate. But it wasn't Benn who reopened the debate, it was the Tories.

The party's inappropriately named "animal welfare spokesman", Andrew Rosindell, has pledged to make the repeal of the ban a priority for a Conservative government, and David Cameron has promised to give Tory MPs a free vote on the matter. Had the Tories accepted the ban, there would be no need for Benn to have written the piece.

The argument for the ban on hunting foxes with hounds is complete on the grounds that a humanity that inflicts terrible cruelties on other species is not very well placed to reduce cruelty within its own ranks. Thus, Cyril Connolly was almost entirely wrong when he described animal love as the "honey of the misanthrope". As Christopher Hitchens once noted:

[I]t will be found that people who "care" -- about rainforests or animals, miscarriages of justice or dictatorships -- are, though frequently irritating, very often the same people. Whereas those who love hamburgers and riskless hunting and mink coats are not in the front ranks of Amnesty International.

Benn's decision to make the ban an election issue is also good politics. Fox-hunting is one of the controversies that has encouraged anti-Tory tactical voting in the past and it could do so again. If Cameron really does want to reverse the ban, he should at least have the decency to tell us why.

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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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