James Forsyth James Forsyth

The tax-and-spend Tories

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When you ask a government minister why something hasn’t happened, you get a one-word answer: ‘Covid’. It has become the catch-all excuse for manifesto promises not materialising. But in the case of social care, there is a particular truth to it. A meeting last week between the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Health Secretary nearly resulted in an agreed policy. A plan was expected this week. Then Sajid Javid tested positive for Covid, putting the three into isolation and the policy on hold.

Johnson feels he needs a solution to social care, having promised to solve the issue when he became PM two years ago and again in the Tory manifesto. One colleague, who has discussed the topic with him multiple times, points out that if Johnson doesn’t come up with a solution, then what would he say at the next election? Another vague commitment simply wouldn’t cut it.

Social care was the undoing of Johnson’s predecessor. Until the ‘dementia tax’ debacle, Theresa May was heading for a comfortable majority. No. 10 has been analysing May’s failure as it works out its social-care plan. Two particular lessons have been drawn. The first is that however intellectually enticing the idea of not having a cap on care costs is, it doesn’t work politically. Second, don’t come up with a social-care policy just before an election.

‘Don’t mention the Track and Trace app — she’s overly sensitive.’

There is a clear attraction for Johnson in sorting a problem that confounded his three predecessors. One Johnson confidant observes: ‘It’s like Brexit, it is all about getting it done.’ But the problem is how do you pay for it? If you are determined to have a cap, then you need to find a serious — and ongoing — source of funding. This clashes with another manifesto commitment: that the Tories would not raise income tax, national insurance or VAT.

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