Monday, 11 February 2013

Social care reforms announced..

Good morning. Social care and how to pay for it dominate the headlines. The reform is off to a bad start. The Tories are getting it in the neck forshelving their inheritance tax pledge, while more generally there is widespread scepticism about the measure's usefulness. The carping about the change feels a bit wrong end of the telescope: by any measure it's a transformation in how we organise care, even if more modest than Dilnot wanted. From 2017 anyone with assets worth more than £123,000 will have to pay the first £75,000 of their care costs excluding a separate annual £12,000 limit for "bed and board" as opposed to the Dilnot suggestion of a £35,000 cap with £10,000 each year on board. The difference is not as great as it looks. Andrew Dilnot explained on the Today programme that his figure was in 2011 prices, while the Coalition's is in 2017 prices (so equivalent to £61,000 in 2011), and acknowledged the strain on public finances.
When we interviewed Jeremy Hunt for Saturday's Telegraph, we asked if the £75,000 cap might be a first step, and the figure could be lowered in future. The Health Secretary made a big point about affordability - that the reform needed to be economically credible. He said: "I hope that it will be seen as a huge sea-change in the way people think about social care.  Of course it’s up to any government to change the level of the cap. All I’d say is that there are implications on public finances and it behoves any party to be responsible and say how they’d pay for a change in the cap."
What will cause the Tories problems is the decision to pay for it by postponing inheritance tax reform until deep into the next Parliament. Not only does this raise questions of reliability, but it also exposes the emerging pattern of shifting the burden towards taxation and away from spending cuts. It also accelerates the redistributive effect of the Coalition. When they say the better off are paying a greater share of austerity, they aren't kidding. Expect this to strain further relations between the leadership and its backbenchers.
Imports of meat from the Continent will be banned if a health risk is identified, we report. Owen Paterson's remarks yesterday raise the intriguing spectre of an illegal UK ban on meat imports to mirror the French ban from the time of the BSE crisis in the nineties. Revenge, like horse meat, is a dish best served cold. The Times (£) thinks the threat is unlikely to materialise, and says investigations will focus on supermarket ready meals for the time being. Boris Johnson is on hand to lament the "fluctuating tides of taboo" in today's Telegraph:
"Where, you wonder with a final flourish, will taboo go next? If the British and the Americans already regard the eating of dogs, cats and horses as haram, how long before all animals are objects of dietary taboo? In 100 years’ time, you wager, the British public will be paying for memorials for the legions of animals that have died to feed them, and the British prime minister will issue an apology to all oxen that have provided the roast beef of old England."
Campaigners for the woman the Mail has dubbed "the Tory Sarah Palin" have been told not to criticise Nick Clegg while campaigning in Eastleigh, we report. The truce isn't being well observed on the yellow side, Vince Cable said yesterday that his party will "relish" attacking their partners in the Coalition. Moreover, Nick and Dave are not coordinating their diaries, meaning both could end up on the stump in Eastleigh at the same time. They may meet Labour's candidate there. The Independent profiles John O'Farrell today, noting that he wrote a book called Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter.
Who knows whether it's the let-up in personal attacks from the Conservatives, or perhaps the pleasant chats he and Vince have been enjoying with Ed Miliband, but Nick is clearly quite relaxed - the Metroreports he has even given up smoking. Even so, he isn't quite as relaxed as his candidate in Eastleigh. Hours after Mike Thornton's name was announced, a photo emerged of him appearing to snooze through a council meeting in 2011. 
The Chancellor will host what the Independent has dubbed an "omnishambles summit" at Dorneywood today (there's also a political Cabinet today) in a bid to spot potential pitfalls in the upcoming budget and avoid a repeat of last year's pasty/caravan/donations fiasco. The meeting comes amidst mixed economic data. Business confidence is the weakest in 21 years, according to the FT (£), an astonishing figure considering how negative global news-flow has been since 2007. Roger Bootle, writing for us, makes the point that the constant wailing and rending of garments from 11 Downing Street and Threadneedle Street has not helped, in this respect.
As usual, there are no shortage of suggestions vying for the Chancellor's attention. Vince thinks we need rich immigrants from China. In his op-ed for us, he argues that visas for the Chinese need to be simplified and immigration made more "business-like". Alternatively, George could turn his gaze from East to North. The FT (£) reports that northern England and the Midlands are both experiencing strong growth led by private sector, suggesting that the rebalancing strategy is working. Go north, young man (unless you're Chinese, in which case come west).
An independent Scotland would need to re-apply to the EU, according to official advice commissioned by the British Government. The first stage of the coming Whitehall campaign to choke the Scottish independence movement at birth was accompanied by a blog post by Dave who writes about the "deep, unbreakable bonds" he has discerned between the tribes of Britain. Even worse (from the perspective of a reader of the newspaper concerned), the Guardian reports that an independent Scotland might not be able to meet its green energy targets. That's Islington's vote for the Union, then. The SNP fight-back starts today, the FT (£) reports that an economic report published this morning will detail the macroeconomic framework for an independent Scotland. Given the brilliance of the Scots involved in guiding the British economy over the past two decades, how could it be anything other than a glorious success?
Tim Montgomerie makes a spirited defence of the role of family values in Conservative thinking in today's Times (£). He argues that it's wrong for the party to see itself as either the defender of the family unit or the  instigator of social reform in the shape of gay marriage, when it could amalgamate both. A tricky task, but fortunately Dave has the writings of Peter Tatchell to guide him. Andrew Pierce points out the similarities between the pair in their arguments for gay marriage, adding "who would have thought that Peter Tatchell, who left the Labour Party because it was not Left-wing enough, and is now a member of the Greens, could be the muse for a Conservative Prime Minister?" Quite. 

Don't worry, Westminster. Michael Fabricant comes prepared:

@mike_fabricant: "Drove from Lichfield thru heavy snow on M6 and M1 in Northamptonshire to Westminster with all my by-election kit. Spare underpants."

In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson - They love horse meat in France, so why do we turn our noses up
Telegraph View - We need to know what it is we are eating

Best of the rest

Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian- The key to Eastleigh: forget Huhne, and think of Crewe
Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - Tories must keep talking about family values
Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun - Cut off the NHS head to save the patient

TODAY: Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announcement to Commons on social care reform.
09:15 am: Publication of economic paper for an independent Scotland. The paper, by the independent council of economic advisers, contains recommendation that Scotland should retain sterling if it leaves the UK. St Andrew's House.
03:00 pm: Nick Clegg visiting Eastleigh by-election campaign. Eastleigh College, Chestnut Avenue.
03:00 pm: Royal Bank of Scotland chiefs to appear before Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Investment banking head John Hourican will give evidence at 3pm before chairman and chief executive, Sir Philip Hampton and Stephen Hester, at 4:30pm in response to the bank's fine for Libor rigging.
04:05 pm: London Mayor Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin give evidence on aviation strategy to House of Commons Transport Committee. Mr Johnson due on at 4:25pm, Mr McLoughlin at 5:05pm.