OK, This Is the Weirdest Political Development of the Week

Note that I’m not saying that this is the weirdest political development in the UK, nor am I saying that it is the weirdest political development if you excluding Donald Trump.

I am saying that this is the weirdest political development in the world this week.

In the past week or so, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been seen as a dead man walking, has started to look like he’s actually going to give the Tories a run for their money:

It would be a severe overstatement to suggest that things are currently going well for Labour. There’s been a recent upturn in the polls, true, but the party is still lagging a good nine points behind the Tories. It’s only because things were looking so bleak before that a comparatively smaller defeat can be interpreted as some kind of success. On a uniform swing, current polling suggests they’ll lose 12 seats while the Conservatives will gain 16. And even that’s optimistic, as evidence suggests that vote losses have been heavier in crucial marginal constituencies.

Still, when you think about where they were a month ago it’s hard not to be somewhat impressed. This election was supposed to be May’s for the taking. Having insisted there would be no early election, she then changed her mind to boost her majority at a time when Labour seemed at its weakest. Since then, her poll lead has halved. In vote share terms, Labour is currently polling only a percentage point lower than its result in the 2005 election – which was enough to secure a significant majority. The reason the Tories are still so far ahead is because, post-EU referendum, they’ve swallowed up most of the Ukip vote by adopting the nationalist agenda.

The release of the parties’ respective manifestos was a pivotal moment. Even some of Corbyn’s harshest critics felt obliged to admit that, actually, the Labour one contains a lot of good stuff. Promises including free childcare for all two- to four-year-olds, a properly funded NHS, free hospital car parking, one million new homes, a cap on rent hikes, an increase in the carers’ allowance, an end to the 1 per cent public sector pay rise cap, an increase in carers’ allowance, the reintroduction of the education maintenance allowance and free higher education made sure there was plenty to appeal to a broad cross-section of society.

Plans to introduce a “fat-cat” tax on banks and a new 50p income tax band for earnings over £123,000 (but no tax rises for anyone earning under £80,000) allayed fears about how such measures will be funded. The whole document was costed in detail – an essential move for a party particularly vulnerable to accusations of economic incompetence.

In contrast, the Conservative manifesto has gone down like a lead balloon. Entirely uncosted (something the Tories find easier to get away with) and almost all punishment with few positive promises to sweeten the deal. Though the largest swing seems to have been amongst 25-49s, who are now 15 per cent more likely to say they’re planning to vote Labour than they were previously, the policy that has attracted most negative attention primarily affects the elderly. The so-called “dementia tax” is basically a levy on inheritance that only affects people unlucky enough to need social care. Critics on the left have pointed out that the policy may deter people for seeking the help they need because they worried about being to leave something for their children. There’s also a strong risk it will encourage suicide.

The backlash was so strong that May was forced into an embarrassing U-turn, but her attempted “clarification” left voters with more questions than it answered. It seems she’s still planning to go ahead with the “dementia cap” but will introduce a cap on the total amount that can be taken. Of course, this only helps the richest who’ve got more than can be taken. Comparatively less wealthy dementia sufferers will be hit just as hard.

Some translation here:  What the Britons call a “Manifesto”, we in the States call a platform, and what they call, “Social care,” is what we would call “Assisted living”.

So, round the clock care for cancer monitoring is covered, but the same (probably less expensive) care for Alzheimers would not be covered.

This has been damaging to the Tories for a number of reasons:

  • Many of the proposals in the Tory manifesto show a sort of radicalism that runs counter to British political culture.
  • Theresa May is showing herself to be a bit of a social sadist.  (A true daughter of Thatcher)
  • May’s “U-turn” is transparent weaseling, which makes her appear weak. 

I still think that Labour’s chances of winning an election are somewhere near that of the Minnesota Vikings winning a Super Bowl, but they may significantly outperform expectations.

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