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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Over a Martini with my mother, I decide I'd rather not talk Brexit

A drink with her reduces me to a nine-year-old boy recounting his cricketing triumphs.

To the Royal Academy with my mother. As well as being a very competent (ex-professional, on Broadway) singer, she is a talented artist, and has a good critical eye, albeit one more tolerant of the brighter shades of the spectrum than mine. I love the RA’s summer exhibition: it offers one the chance to be effortlessly superior about three times a minute.

“Goddammit,” she says, in her finest New York accent, after standing in front of a particularly wretched daub. The tone is one of some vexation: not quite locking-yourself-out-of-the-house vexed, but remembering-you’ve-left-your-wallet-behind-a-hundred-yards-from-the-house vexed. This helps us sort out at least one of the problems she has been facing since widowhood: she is going to get cracking with the painting again, and I am going to supply the titles.

I am not sure I have the satirical chops or shamelessness to come up with anything as dreadful as Dancing With the Dead in My Dreams (artwork number 688, something that would have shown a disturbing kind of promise if executed by an eight-year-old), or The End From: One Day This Glass Will Break (number 521; not too bad, actually), but we work out that if she does reasonably OK prints and charges £500 a pop for each plus £1,000 for the original – this being at the lower end of the price scale – then she’ll be able to come out well up on the deal. (The other solution to her loneliness: get a cat, and perhaps we are nudged in this direction by an amusing video installation of a cat drinking milk from a saucer which attracts an indulgent, medium-sized crowd.)

We wonder where to go for lunch. As a sizeable quantity of the art there seems to hark back to the 1960s in general, and the style of the film Yellow Submarine in particular, I suggest Langan’s Brasserie, which neither of us has been to for years. We order our customary Martinis. Well, she does, while I go through a silly monologue that runs: “I don’t think I’ll have a Martini, I have to write my column this afternoon, oh sod it, I’ll have a Martini.”

“So,” she says as they arrive, “how has life been treating you?”

Good question. How, indeed, has life been treating me? Most oddly, I have to say. These are strange times we live in, a bit strange even for me, and if we wake up on 24 June to find ourselves no longer in Europe and with Nigel Farage’s toadlike mug gurning at us from every newspaper in the land, then I’m off to Scotland, or the US, or at least strongly thinking about it. Not even Hunter S Thompson’s mantra – “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – will be enough to arm myself with, I fear.

The heart has been taking something of a pummelling, as close readers of this column may have gathered, but there is nothing like finding out that the person you fear you might be losing it to is probably going to vote Brexit to clear up that potential mess in a hurry. The heart may be stupid, but there are some things that will shake even that organ from its reverie. However, operating on a need-to-know basis, I feel my mother can do without this information, and I find myself talking about the cricket match I played on Sunday, the first half of which was spent standing watching our team get clouted out of the park, in rain not quite strong enough to take us off the field, but certainly strong enough to make us wet.

“Show me the way to go home,” I sang quietly to myself, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed,” etc. The second half of it, though, was spent first watching an astonishing, even by our standards, batting collapse, then going in at number seven . . . and making the top score for our team. OK, that score was 12, but still, it was the top score for our team, dammit.

The inner glow and sense of bien-être that this imparted on Sunday persists three days later as I write. And as I tell my mother the story – she has now lived long enough in this country, and absorbed enough of the game by osmosis, to know that 17 for five is a pretty piss-poor score – I realise I might as well be nine years old, and telling her of my successes on the pitch. Only, when I was nine, I had no such successes under my belt.

With age comes fearlessness: I don’t worry about the hard ball coming at me. Why should I? I’ve got a bloody bat, gloves, pads, the lot. The only things that scare me now are, as usual, dying alone, that jackanapes Farage, and bad art. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain