Here are two banal observations about British politics today. The first is that general elections are stressful; too many visits, too much general public, too much media, too little sleep. The second is that social care policy is hard to get right; too complicated, too many losers, not many votes in it.
So if you’re going to do the latter during the former – well, ideally, don’t. What follows may well be catastrophic, as the Conservatives are now fearing. Why has the launch of what should be their flagship policy gone so badly for the Tories? Here are two questions they need to ask themselves.
How did the leadership so badly misread the mood of their own Conservative Party membership? Anecdote is not evidence, particularly anecdote based on a sample size of one, but I started to understand that the Conservatives may have problems when I heard the sheer fury at their proposals from a paid-up member of their own party – who I happen to be married to. That was on Friday, but the Conservatives still stuck to their line over the weekend despite the very Ministers defending it on the Sunday TV shows surely hearing negative reactions on the doorstep the preceding day.
I would suggest that one answer to this question is that the Daily Mail’s fulsome praise for the social care plans is not as helpful to the Conservatives as they might have thought. The Mail frontpage may say one thing; its readers may think the opposite. Choosing to only focus on the former may have lulled senior Tories into a false sense of security.
The second question is how the leadership managed to miss all the alarm bells when it comes to making policy. The social care proposals were, apparently, a last-minute addition placed there at the behest of Nick Timothy, the Prime Minister’s powerful joint chief of staff. But this means they will not have been stress tested to destruction. Consulting with your colleagues may be tiresome and dull, but an hour long meeting to discuss some of the Tory plans would have allowed them to address and hammer out any problems– and head off a weekend of bad headlines and slipping poll leads.
And what does this say about Conservative policy-making? You don’t have to be a political genius to realise that just popping an idea into a manifesto with no prior discussion might not be the greatest plan in the world. So why didn’t someone point this out to Mr Timothy and/or Mrs May? Or perhaps they did, but such is the influence of the former over the latter that sensible warnings were disregarded.
That is no way to make policy and highlights two other concerns, bigger worries than just internal Tory Party issues. The first is that, through their inability to get the details of this policy right, or communicate it properly, or both, the Conservatives have damaged what is a perfectly sensible principle of getting wealthier pensioners to pay for more of their own care. This does not bode well for the coherent and fair resolution of a problem that has been festering for years now.
The second issue is that the Conservatives will still likely form the next government. In power, they will have to manage the most complicated negotiations this country has undertaken after the Second World War as we look to finalise how we leave the EU. This past weekend of poorly thought out, poorly planned, poorly communicated policy does not fill me with hope that they can successfully do this.