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The Conservatives’ social care woes are real

The "dementia tax" has made waves in the marginals - and not in a good way.

By Stephen Bush

Will the dementia tax cost Theresa May her house? That’s the gag in Morten Morland’s cartoon in the Times this morning, which depicts a pair of elderly voters angrily remonstrating with the PM outside Downing Street. To make matters worse, that paper reports that the plan may may fall apart anyway due to other problems in social care. “Care crisis threatens to scupper May reforms” is their splash.

I was out and about in Bath, Newport and Gower this weekend and it was clear to me that the Conservatives’ social care policy has made waves in the marginals and not in a good way. That’s not just my impression, either. As Denis Campbell and Rowena Mason report in the Guardian, Conservative candidates are uneasy about the reaction too. The blame game is already underway, with Conservative sources telling the FT‘s Jim Pickard that the plan was rushed through at the last minute without consulting the Cabinet.

That the polls are all showing Labour closing the gap with the Conservatives. That might just be noise – Labour tends to peak a few weeks out from an election. In 1997, they were polling at or above 50 per cent at this stage in the race, they got 43 per cent. In 2001, they were again hovering around the 50 per cent mark and then got 41 per cent. In 2005, they were on 40 per cent and ended up with 35 per cent. In 1987 they were at 35 per cent and ended up with 30 per cent. In 1983 they were at 35 per cent and got 27 per cent. But that pattern doesn’t always hold and it might not this time either.

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The Conservatives’ big hope is that in the final weeks they will unleash everything they’ve dug up on Jeremy Corbyn and his inner circle, turning around the polls. First up: the Labour leader’s dealings with the IRA in the 1980s. Corbyn’s refusal to condemn the IRA’s bombings exclusively – he instead said he condemned “all bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA” – on the Sophy Ridge programme yesterday is picked up in today’s papers. “Corbyn engulfed in IRA furore” is the Telegraph‘s splash and “Corbyn’s kick in the teeth for IRA victims” is the Mail‘s.

Will it work? Maybe. The Conservatives’ poll ratings still have a way to fall before they have genuine cause for panic and the historical trends still point to them improving on their current position in the polls and significantly increasing their strength in the House of Commons.

But the difficulty for the PM is that that her victory, if it comes, looks less and less like an endorsement for her ripping up of Conservative heresies and more and more like a referendum on Jeremy Corbyn.