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Could a new backbench tribe help Theresa May fix social care?

3 August 2017

6:52 PM

3 August 2017

6:52 PM

This time a year ago, Westminster was trying to work out what Mayism was. Perhaps, we wondered, it was a way of getting things done: serious government by committee rather than the ‘chaterama’ politics espoused by David Cameron. Or at least a rather Brownite commitment to showing how different Theresa May was to her predecessor by focusing on policies such as grammar schools and so on.

Now, of course, it’s tempting to joke that Mayism was as doomed as the Mayans, but as Katy wrote recently, one good thing we have learned about the Prime Minister’s modus operandi is that she doesn’t quit when things are utterly miserable in the way that other senior politicians have in recent years. She has promised her party that she will stay for as long as it wants her to, and is committed to sorting out the Brexit negotiations. ‘I got us into this mess and I’m going to get us out of it,’ she told the 1922 Committee shortly after her snap election disaster.


One thing that could make her life more difficult as she tries to do this is a new tribe of MPs who are working across parties to try to soften Brexit. I write about this group in the latest Spectator. The new tribe of Remain-minded, centrist types from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories won’t be May’s favourite parliamentary faction, but they could help her on other matters.

One of the most important non-Brexit matter is social care, another mess May made in the election – but one she hasn’t yet promised to get us out of. The half-baked manifesto pledge on this policy area, which became known as the ‘dementia tax’, may have made politicians even more timid about trying to reform the long-term financial situation for health and social care. But members of the new tribe are determined that the government go ahead with some kind of more sensible reform, and are already meeting to try to push the government.

If May is the woman who gets things done that she claimed to be, one of the things she could do is to try to sort out the mess in social care. She has limited political capital, but perhaps this means she can propose things that are unpopular with the country (given any social care reform will involve a lot more money, something that will shock voters who are largely blissfully unaware of how high care costs are now) without worrying about the consequences for her as Prime Minister at the next election. Of course, she has a thousand excuses not to go anywhere near this sort of reform. But she might just find a tribe of MPs who are very keen to help her on this in a way that no-one else is keen to help her on anything else.

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