Shadow health minister Liz Kendall during the party's NHS week in the election campaign. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Five things we learned from Liz Kendall at the Press Gallery

Labour leadership candidate backs the 2 per cent defence spending target and free schools. 

Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall, one of three likely to make the ballot (the others being Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper), appeared before a Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch this afternoon, feeding the hacks plenty of newslines. Here are the five main ones. 

She backs the 2 per cent defence spending target

The Tories have repeatedly refused to pledge to meet the Nato target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence (despite David Cameron urging other member states to do so). But Kendall today declared her support for the commitment. "Under this government we have seen a quiet diminishing of Britain's role in the world, which we did too little to challenge because we were paralysed by the past," the shadow health minister said. "Under my leadership, Labour will no longer stand by while the Prime Minister weakens our country and allows the world to become less secure. That means insisting the UK maintains our basic Nato commitment to continue spending 2 per cent on defence. As leader of the opposition I will hold David Cameron to account for Britain's promise to our allies and I will oppose him if he breaks it." 

But while her stance allows Labour to outflank the Tories in a novel area, it will make it harder for her to achieve fiscal credibility unless she outlines how the expensive pledge would be paid for. 

She supports free schools

Labour went into the election opposing the establishment of free schools in areas with surplus places - a stance that Burnham has promised to maintain. But Kendall declared that she would support institutions of all kinds provided that they were "providing a great education".  

"As leader, I'm not going to waste time obsessing about school structures. If a school is providing a great education, whether it's a local authority, academy or free school, we will back it. What's more, if someone wants to help run their school, they deserve credit, not criticism." 

Kendall's stance is designed to show that Labour is open to public service reform (one of her greatest political passions) and takes a non-ideological approach to education. But it will not help her cause among the trade union members and party activists she will need the support of to win the leadership (the majority of whom are opposed to free schools). 

She would not cut tuition fees and instead focus on early years 

One of Labour's signature election pledges was to reduce university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000. But Kendall disowned this policy, instead promising to focus on early years education. 

"When kids in my constituency start school 15 months behind where they should be in terms of their development and 20 months behind in some areas, they play catch-up for the rest of ther lives. They struggle to even get basic GCSEs, let alone have a chance of going to college, university or getting a job. That's why children's early years will be my priority as leader, not cutting university tuition fees."

She expected the Tories to win the most seats 

Asked by NS editor Jason Cowley why she and her shadow cabinet colleagues failed to remove Miliband if they believed his approach was failing, Kendall replied: "You don't know what goes on behind closed doors and the conversations people have. But he was elected leader, he deserved our loyalty and support. He took the decisions and we backed that because that's what happens when you elect a leader, I believe in collective responsibility. 

Kendall did admit, though, that she expected the Tories "to get most seats" at the election, recalling that "When you have so many undecided voters in our key marginals, you know something is fundamentally wrong. Because it's either that our Labour party members aren't canvassing properly, which isn't the case because they're fantastic, it's because people aren't telling you the truth: either they're going Tory or they're going to vote Ukip. I thought they'd get the most seats but I didn't predict the scale of it.

She is open to the Labour leader facing re-election  

Asked by the Spectator's Isabel Hardman whether she supported the next leader submitting themselves to re-election before the next election (as proposed by Labour peer Jan Royall), Kendall made it clear that she was open to the idea. 

"I think the idea that people are asked to make sure that you're up the job that you're doing is an interesting one, actually, those three years or whatever. We have to do it as MPs, I think it's an interesting idea." Asked whether she wouldn't object to a second leadership contest, she replied: "If people think you're not up the job, then yes." 

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Now listen to George discussing the Labour leadership contest on the NS podcast:

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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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