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:
Daily Mail headline no.1: when Ed Miliband wanted to cap energy price rises
Daily Mail headline no.2: when Theresa May wants to do the same pic.twitter.com/DpoXZ5Fh3m
— Stewart Wood (@StewartWood) April 12, 2017
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.