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12 November 2015

Tony Blair’s not-so-smoking gun, Lord Lucan’s “left-wing” parents and Bond’s “moderate violence”

Bond's violence is only "moderate"? Yes, I know there’s eye-gouging in King Lear but at least you get great poetry with it.

By Peter Wilby

The financial troubles of Four Seasons Health Care, the country’s biggest care-home operator, presents Labour with an opportunity it should not miss. Thanks to a decline in local authority fees – largely attributable to George Osborne’s public spending cuts – the care industry, according to some commentators, faces as big a crisis as steel, with one in two residential homes at risk of closure. The British, generally anxious to keep old folk out of sight and out of mind, are nevertheless incurably sentimental about them. If they were turned out on the streets, the government wouldn’t last a fortnight.

No doubt the industry’s lobbyists exaggerate the crisis. That shouldn’t stop Labour addressing the question. Old people, it is said, now live in unprecedented luxury, enjoying triple-locked state pensions that guarantee them, for the foreseeable future, bigger annual rises than everybody else gets. They are therefore the Tories’ most reliable supporters, with 47 per cent backing David Cameron in this year’s election, against 23 per cent for Ed Miliband.

But as they luxuriate on round-the-world cruises, a great fear preoccupies most old people: what happens if they need care, either at home or in a residential institution? Although the government has set a £72,000 cap on what people need to pay themselves, it doesn’t take effect until 2020 and it doesn’t mean you won’t in practice pay more.

This is Labour’s great opportunity to win over millions of over-65s without whom the party cannot win in 2020. Its big idea should be a National Care Service, on the lines of the NHS, wholly free at the point of use, wherever and whenever needed. It should be funded not from general taxation but from a rebranded and extended inheritance tax.

Inheritance tax is wildly unpopular even among those whose estates won’t be liable – which means the vast majority – and Osborne has all but abolished it. Under my proposal, more estates would have to contribute and those that now contribute would pay at a higher rate. But if used specifically to guarantee good-quality care and give old people peace of mind, it would be viewed quite differently, though I grant you it needs the best PR and marketing (over to you, Seumas Milne). It is hard to imagine anything more socialist: pooling collective resources to meet an uninsurable risk. Will Jeremy Corbyn dare?

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A damp squib burn order

A smoking gun at last? According to the Mail on Sunday, Labour ministers were told in 2003 to “burn” the 13-page legal opinion given by the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, that invading Iraq would be illegal. Alas, it turns out that only one minister, then defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, received the order. It came to him second-hand and, according to an unnamed source, “he did not regard it as an instruction to be followed”. Perhaps I am being over-literal but that, to my way of thinking, means it wasn’t an order.

Soon after his first opinion, Goldsmith, as we now know, issued a second, “clearer” one-page opinion, saying war was perfectly acceptable. What we need is a recording of Tony Blair saying to him: “Listen, sunshine, give me something saying I can nuke those Iraqis whenever I feel like it or you’ll be at the bottom of the Thames tomorrow morning in lead boots.” Until they have such a thing, newspapers should remain silent.


Bond v Lear

Given that I usually avoid anything described as an “action movie”, and haven’t watched a James Bond film in years, I am probably a poor judge of these things. But I was surprised that the latest Bond film, Spectre – which, anxious to stay abreast of mass-market cultural offerings, I recently watched – is officially categorised as containing only “moderate violence”. Since it involves exploding buildings (with people inside them), several shootings, fisticuffs every few minutes, eye-gouging and torture, I shudder to think what would be labelled “immoderate”. People who join Isis and other Islamist groups are accused of an obsession with violence. But the proverbial Martian, coming upon a Bond film and its box-office success, might conclude that such an obsession is not primarily a Muslim problem. And, yes, I know there’s eye-gouging in King Lear but at least you get great poetry with it.


Done scrumming

I am about to contradict myself but, to borrow from Walt Whitman, a weekly columnist must contain multitudes. Having whinged about violence in the cinema, I confess to being an eager follower of rugby union; the only sport, I believe, that finds it necessary to lay down specific penalties (usually suspension for a few matches) against eye-gouging. My enthusiasm for the game dates from childhood when even the top English clubs were watched by no more than 2,000 and all players were amateurs (theoretically, at any rate).

I always liked rugby’s status as a minority sport, free from the commercialised glamour and saturation media coverage of football. Now, following the success of the World Cup – of which, turned off by the hype and glitz, I watched relatively little – I feel the game is being stolen from me. Worst of all was the appearance at the New Zealand-Australia final of Rupert Murdoch with his latest squeeze, Jerry Hall. I don’t want to be a fan of anything that Murdoch’s a fan of.


Lucky, Lucan

In a long article for the Sunday Times, written on the flimsy pretext that a court was due to make Lord Lucan’s death official, Ivan Fallon, the paper’s former deputy editor, purports to cast fresh light on the disappeared earl’s reckless and ultimately murderous behaviour. “His parents,” Fallon writes without further elaboration, “had been strange, left-wing political activists.”

I have spent some time pondering the significance of that sentence and particularly the placing of the comma. 

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This article appears in the 04 Nov 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The end of Europe