In the shadow of the state

David Miliband on his father, Labourism and the state in capitalist society.

I've written a piece about David and Ed Miliband's late father, Ralph, the Marxist intellectual, for the next issue of the magazine. While researching the piece, I asked both brothers which of their father's books they most admire. David's answer was particularly intriguing: "Parliamentary Socialism for its unsparing narrative. The State in Capitalist Society for its first line."

Parliamentary Socialism was Miliband's first book (published in 1961; a second edition, with an even more "unsparing" postscript, came out 11 years later). It's a comprehensive analysis of the culture of "Labourism" (I'm pretty sure Miliband was the first to use the term), which he sees as a set of dogmas about democratic socialist politics, the parliamentary system and the institutions of the British state.

Simply put, Labourism holds that Labour politics begins and ends with the capture of the institutions of the central state -- not in their democratisation or reform. Its apothesosis, in Miliband's account, was the Attlee government of 1945-51.

And here's the connection with the first line of The State in Capitalist Society (1969) that so impressed Miliband's elder son, for that reads as follows: "More than ever before men live in the shadow of the state."

Would it be too fanciful to detect Ralph's influence in some of David's recent public statements? Take, for instance, his Keir Hardie Lecture, delivered in July, in which he depicted Hardie as "a socialist not a statist". And in which he attributed some of New Labour's failings to a strain of "paternalist authoritarianism" that runs deep in the culture of Labourism anatomised so brilliantly by his father.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture 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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