Whiff of panic in Theresa May’s change of mind on social care
“It needs explaining” – how one government minister described Theresa May’s plans for social care in England early this morning.
The sense among several figures in government I spoke to that was that they would tough out the row; the “initial flak” was expected to subside once ministers had been out there to make the case more clearly and more forcefully.
One senior Tory told me there had been a “paucity of message” – in other words the plan wasn’t, in their view, necessarily the wrong one, but ministers had made a right old mess of failing to explain it.
After some kickback from voters, they expected the PM would defend her plan more robustly and try to persuade voters of its merits in the hope the row would blow over.
But by noon it was clear the PM was going to do more than a bit of extra explaining.
At her party’s manifesto launch in Wales (where ironically social care is devolved, so it’s a totally different system), she was – only in response to “fake claims”, she suggested – up for making her plan crystal clear, and “clarifying” her intentions.
But when politicians use the word “clarify”, it means they are at least partly changing their mind.
‘Big, big deal’
Suddenly, only four days after the Tory manifesto was published, Theresa May has added one rather crucial proposal to her social care plan – a limit or a cap to the amount of money one individual could be asked to pay.
She is adamant that she is not budging on her principles, and was clearly irritated by questions after her speech that said she was backtracking. But the manifesto did not include the notion of a cap, and just yesterday ministers publicly rejected such an idea.
One senior minister told me “we always knew we were going to need to give protection to those with very high care costs”.
They said the prime minister sees trying to fix the social care system “as a big, big deal and she is prepared to use political capital to do it”. But having to clarify the manifesto within days creates a whiff of panic. Rather than the “strong and stable” mantra that the PM has repeated again and again during this campaign, this change of heart suggests that she is more susceptible to pressure than her team would care to admit.