Hague announces “judge-led” torture inquiry

How much of the inquiry will be heard in public, and does David Miliband have anything to worry abou

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague (typing that still feels strange), has said that he will order a "judge-led" inquiry into allegations that the UK's security services were complicit in torture.

This is a very positive step, and puts into practice something that both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives called for in opposition following the Binyam Mohamed case.

Essentially, the allegation is that British security services and the British government subcontracted torture -- sending UK residents and citizens abroad, where they knew they were likely to face torture, even if they did not specifically recommend it.

It is not clear yet what form the inquiry will take. Hague said only:

We will be setting out in the not-too-distant future what we are going to do about allegations that have been made into complicity in torture. We will make a full announcement that we are working on now. We want a judge-led inquiry.

A key question will be how much of the inquiry is heard in public. The high court battle to get the Foreign Office to share evidence in the Mohamed case suggest that it will primarily take place behind closed doors.

While the new government will be keen to avoid the accusation of a whitewash in this attempt to demonstrate a break with the past, there will be a strong national interest defence for keeping key details private. The secret services are not shy about employing this.

Writing in the Guardian, Ian Cobain is hopeful, noting that:

It is expected to expose not only details of the activities of the security and intelligence officials alleged to have colluded in torture since 9/11, but also the identities of the senior figures in government who authorised those activities.

While the first senior figure that springs to mind is, of course, Tony Blair, there are others with more at stake. What about David Miliband? Any responsible inquiry will have to ask what he -- and the then home secretary, Alan Johnson -- knew about the practice of rendition established in the Blair/Bush era, and whether they did anything about it.

Today, Johnson declared his withdrawal from frontbench politics. Miliband, currently the front-runner for the Labour leadership, has rather more at stake. When it comes to the murky area of torture and rendition, he certainly does not want to be tarred as the heir to Blair.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer 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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