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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Will Jeremy Corbyn stand down if Labour loses the general election?

Defeat at the polls might not be the end of Corbyn’s leadership.

The latest polls suggest that Labour is headed for heavy defeat in the June general election. Usually a general election loss would be the trigger for a leader to quit: Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all stood down after their first defeat, although Neil Kinnock saw out two losses before resigning in 1992.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Corbyn could become prime minister. If that prospect doesn’t materialise, however, the question is: will Corbyn follow the majority of his predecessors and resign, or will he hang on in office?

Will Corbyn stand down? The rules

There is no formal process for the parliamentary Labour party to oust its leader, as it discovered in the 2016 leadership challenge. Even after a majority of his MPs had voted no confidence in him, Corbyn stayed on, ultimately winning his second leadership contest after it was decided that the current leader should be automatically included on the ballot.

This year’s conference will vote on to reform the leadership selection process that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot (nicknamed the “McDonnell amendment” by centrists): Corbyn could be waiting for this motion to pass before he resigns.

Will Corbyn stand down? The membership

Corbyn’s support in the membership is still strong. Without an equally compelling candidate to put before the party, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are unlikely to initiate another leadership battle they’re likely to lose.

That said, a general election loss could change that. Polling from March suggests that half of Labour members wanted Corbyn to stand down either immediately or before the general election.

Will Corbyn stand down? The rumours

Sources close to Corbyn have said that he might not stand down, even if he leads Labour to a crushing defeat this June. They mention Kinnock’s survival after the 1987 general election as a precedent (although at the 1987 election, Labour did gain seats).

Will Corbyn stand down? The verdict

Given his struggles to manage his own MPs and the example of other leaders, it would be remarkable if Corbyn did not stand down should Labour lose the general election. However, staying on after a vote of no-confidence in 2016 was also remarkable, and the mooted changes to the leadership election process give him a reason to hold on until September in order to secure a left-wing succession.

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