The Tories’ remarkable U-turn on the “death tax”

Do they now regret that sinister election poster?

Death Tax

One of the most misleading posters of the last election campaign was the Tories' macabre attack on Labour's "death tax" (a phrase revealingly borrowed from the US right). The poster accused Labour of planning to introduce a £20,000 levy on estates to fund social care for the elderly, ignoring that this was just one option among many being explored by ministers.

The mere mention of a compulsory levy prompted Andrew Lansley, the then shadow health secretary, to walk out of the cross-party talks on the future of care. But now, having established his own independent commission on the subject, Lansley has ruled that the panel should be free to examine compulsory funding after all.

One can hardly blame him: a "death tax" remains the fairest and most equitable way of paying for social care, but his political opportunism is galling.

The need to pander to the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph and to terrify "Middle England" into voting for the Tories, took precedence over the need for a fair and objective examination of one of the biggest pieces of unfinished business. The present system, whereby only those with assets of less than £23,000 receive state funding, forces many to sell their family homes. A flat-rate levy on the estates of the deceased would allow the elderly to avoid this distressing fate.

Andy Burnham, who has made the creation of a National Care Service a main plank of his campaign, now has the chance to land some hefty blows on the coalition. As Ed Balls's standing continues to be boosted by his relentless (and highly effective) attacks on Michael Gove, this could be the issue that gives Burnham's candidacy the momentum it badly needs.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Michael Gove definitely didn't betray anyone, says Michael Gove

What's a disagreement among friends?

Michael Gove is certainly not a traitor and he thinks Theresa May is absolutely the best leader of the Conservative party.

That's according to the cast out Brexiteer, who told the BBC's World At One life on the back benches has given him the opportunity to reflect on his mistakes. 

He described Boris Johnson, his one-time Leave ally before he decided to run against him for leader, as "phenomenally talented". 

Asked whether he had betrayed Johnson with his surprise leadership bid, Gove protested: "I wouldn't say I stabbed him in the back."

Instead, "while I intially thought Boris was the right person to be Prime Minister", he later came to the conclusion "he wasn't the right person to be Prime Minister at that point".

As for campaigning against the then-PM David Cameron, he declared: "I absolutely reject the idea of betrayal." Instead, it was a "disagreement" among friends: "Disagreement among friends is always painful."

Gove, who up to July had been a government minister since 2010, also found time to praise the person in charge of hiring government ministers, Theresa May. 

He said: "With the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to spend some time on the backbenches reflecting on some of the mistakes I've made and some of the judgements I've made, I actually think that Theresa is the right leader at the right time. 

"I think that someone who took the position she did during the referendum is very well placed both to unite the party and lead these negotiations effectively."

Gove, who told The Times he was shocked when Cameron resigned after the Brexit vote, had backed Johnson for leader.

However, at the last minute he announced his candidacy, and caused an infuriated Johnson to pull his own campaign. Gove received just 14 per cent of the vote in the final contest, compared to 60.5 per cent for May. 


Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.