David Cameron during his visit to the headquarters of ventilation manufacturer, Vent-Axia on January 23, 2014 in Crawley. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron's plan to cut inheritance tax would create social care black hole

The Tories have previously pledged to fund social care reform by freezing the inheritance tax threshold.

George Osborne's 2007 pledge to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m, which spooked Gordon Brown into calling off an early election, is still remembered as a political masterstroke. But the combination of the crash and the coalition means that the Tories haven't even come close to delivering it. In the 2012 Autumn Statement, Osborne announced that the inheritance tax threshold, frozen since 2009 at £325,000 (£650,000 for couples), would rise by just 1 per cent in 2015-16 to £329,000. More recently, he revealed that to help meet the £1bn a year cost of the coalition's social care plan, the threshold will be frozen at £329,000 until at least 2019. Many more "ordinary people", to use Osborne's 2007 words, will be hit by inheritance tax (although, in reality, only around 6 per cent of estates are affected). Were the threshold to rise in line with inflation, it would stand at £420,000 in 2019.

It is notable, then, that when asked about this subject at a pensioners' event today (hosted by Saga magazine), David Cameron suggested that the Tories would promise relief in their manifesto. He said:

We put in our manifesto that we wanted to take it to £1m but we did not win an outright majority [and] the pledge did not make it into the Coalition Agreement.

Would I like to go further in future? Yes I would. I believe in people being able to pass things down through the generations and onto our children, it builds a stronger society.

Inheritance Tax should only really be paid by the rich, it shouldn't be paid by those people who have worked hard and saved and brought a family house.

The ambition is still there, I would like to go further. It's something we'll have to address in our election manifesto.

It is unclear whether this amounts to a commitment to repeat the pledge of a £1m threshold, but Cameron's words suggest that he is planning a significant increase in the starting level.  What he may or may not be aware of is that this would leave a black-hole in his social care funding plan, meaning tax rises or cuts elsewhere. In the age of austerity, there are no cost-free pledges.

Incidentally, it's worth noting that Osborne, according to Janan Ganesh's recent biography, was secretely glad when the Lib Dems gave him political cover to abandon the pledge as it had come to reinforce the Tories' reputation as "the party of the rich".

Cameron also used today's event to give the clearest signal yet that the Tories will again pledge to protect universal pensioner benefits in their manifesto. He said: "We will set our policy for the next parliament at the next election. I don't want to prejudge that. But the only thing I would say is that people think you save lots of money by not giving these benefits to upper-rate, top-rate taxpayers. You save a tiny amount of money and you always introduce another complexity into the system. We made our promises for this parliament, we kept our promises, I'm proud of that."

It is rather disingenuous of Cameron to protest that means-testing the benefits would raise little money when one could say the same of measures such as the benefit cap (which is forecast to raise £110m) and the bedroom tax (£490m - and both, as analysts have warned, may end up costing more than they save by increasing homelessness and other problems). But the view among the Tories is that, having lost many pensioner voters to UKIP since 2010 (some of whom have been clawed back by Osborne's Budget), they can't afford to hand Nigel Farage another attack line.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.