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Are the media biased against Jeremy Corbyn? Just look at how Theresa May’s policies are covered

The Tory manifesto contains Labour policies – and receives adoration from the right-wing press.

Slowly but shamelessly, the Conservative Party has been ripping off Labour policies. From the days of David Cameron to Theresa May unveiling her manifesto today, the Tories have been nicking Ed Miliband’s ideas and passing them off as their own: energy price caps, banning letting agent fees, raising the minimum wage, abolishing permanent non-dom status, worker representation on boards, borrowing to invest without counting it in the deficit, means-testing winter fuel payments for pensioners, and making the elderly pay more for social care.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as Ukip rejoices in having influenced the government to call an EU referendum, the creators of the Labour 2015 manifesto can take some solace in having their policies implemented (that’s if they aren’t watered down by the Tories). But the blood-boiling thing about this is how differently such proposals are received by the press when they come from Theresa May compared to when they come from Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn.

Let’s take the announcement today that the elderly will have to pay more for their care. The idea is that people will have to pay care costs – whether they’re receiving care at home or living in a nursing home – until their assets are below £100,000. This takes the value of their house into account, which means about one in ten people with care needs will be paying more. The government will wait until they die before they have to provide this money.

This is very similar to the Labour politician Andy Burnham’s policy proposal when he was health secretary in Gordon Brown’s government. He proposed funding social care by taxing people’s estates when they die – almost identical to May’s announcement today. Burnham resurrected this idea as a Labour leadership candidate afterthe 2015 election. Both times, it was labelled a “death tax” by the press and political opponents.

How did the papers react when May announced the same thing?

All photos: Twitter

And remember Miliband’s energy prize freeze? Here’s his former adviser Stewart Wood comparing headlines about a policy that was lambasted by the right-wing press at the time but being praised now that the Tories have proposed it:

May is consistently labelled “mainstream” and praised for appealing to “Middle England” when she does something for middle-earners (say, making the better-off stump up more for public services, or raising the personal tax allowance). When Corbyn does the same – as with his policy to pay for universal free school meals by taxing private schools – he is waging a “tax war on the middle class”.

When pictures of Corbyn’s five-bedroom manor house where he grew up flash up on our screens, as with ITV Tonight’s leader interview on Monday (fair enough – it’s a personal profile), the intricacies of May’s family home don’t feature in similar reports about her background. These tend to focus – as in The One Show’s recent interview – on her character (“strong and stable”, usually) and on banal, sanitised details of her relationship.

And it’s not just Corbyn. While the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron is (rightly) grilled on how his Christianity affects his views on abortion and homosexuality, May – the vicar’s daughter – is given a free pass.

And it’s not just May. When the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, got himself into a tangle over the cost of HS2 in a disastrous interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, it was mainly ignored. A rather different response from when the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, messed up policing figures. Her performance was roundly covered and mocked.

This is not to say that Corbyn’s hypocrisies, influences and policies shouldn’t be scrutinised. It’s just that the press needn’t be so credulous when reporting Tory policies that would have provoked horror if they came from opposition parties.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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David had taken the same tablets for years. Why the sudden side effects?

Long-term medication keeps changing its appearance – round white tablets one month, red ovals the next, with different packaging to boot.

David had been getting bouts of faintness and dizziness for the past week. He said it was exactly like the turns he used to get before he’d had his pacemaker inserted. A malfunctioning pacemaker didn’t sound too good, so I told him I’d pop in at lunchtime.

Everything was in good order. He was recovering from a nasty cough, though, so I wondered aloud if, at the age of 82, he might just be feeling weak from having fought that off. I suggested he let me know if things didn’t settle.

I imagined he would give it a week or two, but the following day there was another visit request. Apparently he’d had a further turn that morning. The carer hadn’t liked the look of him so she’d rung the surgery.

Once again, he was back to normal by the time I got there. I quizzed him further. The symptoms came on when he got up from the sofa, or if bending down for something, suggesting his blood pressure might be falling with the change in posture. I checked the medication listed in his notes: eight different drugs, at least two of which could cause that problem. But David had been taking the same tablets for years; why would he suddenly develop side effects now?

I thought I’d better establish if his blood pressure was dropping. I got him to stand, and measured it repeatedly over a period of several minutes. Not a hint of a fall. And nor did he now feel in the slightest bit unwell. I was stumped. David’s wife had been watching proceedings from her armchair. “Mind you,” she said, “it only happens mid-morning.”

The specific timing made me pause. I asked to see his tablets. David passed me a carrier bag of boxes. I went through them methodically, cross-referencing each one to his notes.

“Well, there’s your trouble,” I said, holding out a couple of the packets. One was emblazoned with the name “Diffundox”, the other “Prosurin”. “They’re actually the same thing.”

Every medication has two names, a brand name and a generic one – both Diffundox and Prosurin are brand names of a medication known generically as tamsulosin, which improves weak urinary flow in men with enlarged prostates. Doctors are encouraged to prescribe generically in almost all circumstances – if I put “tamsulosin” on a prescription, the pharmacist can supply the best value generic available at that time, but if I specify a brand name they’re obliged to dispense that particular one irrespective of cost.

Generic prescribing is good for the NHS drug budget, but it can be horribly confusing for patients. Long-term medication keeps changing its appearance – round white tablets one month, red ovals the next, with different packaging to boot. And while the box always has the generic name on it somewhere, it’s much less prominent than the brand name. With so many patients on multiple medications, all of which are subject to chopping and changing between generics, it’s no wonder mix-ups occur. Couple that with doctors forever stopping and starting drugs and adjusting doses, and you start to get some inkling of quite how much potential there is for error.

I said to David that, at some point the previous week, two different brands of tamsulosin must have found their way into his bag. They looked for all the world like different medications to him, with the result that he was inadvertently taking a double dose every morning. The postural drops in his blood pressure were making him distinctly unwell, but were wearing off after a few hours.

Even though I tried to explain things clearly, David looked baffled that I, an apparently sane and rational being, seemed to be suggesting that two self-evidently different tablets were somehow the same. The arcane world of drug pricing and generic substitution was clearly not something he had much interest in exploring. So, I pocketed one of the aberrant packets of pills, returned the rest, and told him he would feel much better the next day. I’m glad to say he did. 

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Putin’s spy game