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Tuesday, 07 November 2017

New book claims PM pressed ahead with 'dementia tax' despite advisor warnings

Written by David Hughes

The bitter fallout from the Conservative General Election humiliation has continued with fresh revelations about splits at the top of Theresa May's campaign.

A new book about the ill-fated campaign claims concerns were raised about controversial social care changes in the Tory manifesto but the Prime Minister chose to press on.

The backlash over the policy, dubbed the "dementia tax" by critics, prompted a swift U-turn by Mrs May and triggered a collapse in her poll ratings at a crucial stage of the campaign.

The Prime Minister lost her Commons majority in the June contest, with her two closest advisers - joint chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill - quitting amid criticism of their influence.

The new book, Betting The House: The Inside Story Of The 2017 Election, by journalists Tim Ross and Tom McTague, indicates that Ms Hill had raised concerns about the social care policy.

It also sets out how Mr Timothy and his allies blame political guru Sir Lynton Crosby, his business partner Mark Textor and US strategist Jim Messina for the campaign's shortcomings.

But others pointed the finger at the manifesto drawn up by Mr Timothy, which included the controversial plan to scrap a cap on the amount people would have to pay for social care, with costs recovered from the estate after death potentially leading to people's family homes being sold rather than passed on to their children.

The book claims Ms Hill raised objections about the reforms and tried to get them watered down hours before the manifesto went to print, but Mr Timothy resisted.

Mrs May made the final call, saying "I want to go with it", the book said.

A private email from Mr Timothy to Mr Textor in April showed him setting out "some of the slightly more controversial" policies under consideration for testing in focus groups, including an early version of the social care shake-up and plans to means-test winter fuel payments.

Mr Timothy told the book's authors: "Lynton and everybody knew all the controversial content in advance, they tested everything. He saw the final draft in printed format.

"That version, he would have seen only several days before it was published because that version only existed several days before it was printed. Social care was tested. Winter fuel payments was tested. Free school meals was tested. It was all tested.

"The answer that came back from Tex (Mr Textor) was 'there's a risk in this but it's a manageable risk'. Clearly we didn't manage the risk very well on the social care stuff. But that's how it worked."

An ally of Sir Lynton said details were lacking from the policies because Mrs May's team wanted to have flexibility in implementing their reforms after the expected election victory.

The source said: "It is true that some of the ideas in the manifesto were tested, but they weren't the policy detail. It was like: 'We should reform social care so the burden doesn't fall on younger people and we have a more sustainable programme for the future'. Well, fine, 70% will support that.

"They did put some of this stuff to the test in quantitative and qualitative research, but the problem was they wouldn't be specific.

"For example, the means-testing of the winter fuel allowance. Lots of MPs were saying: 'Why can't we just spell out that anyone on the basic state pension will still get it?'

"The answer was because most people were going to lose their winter fuel allowance. They had actually costed it all so it would only be the very poorest of the poor who would get some of these things.

"The lack of detail made people nervous and they were right to be nervous because the lack of specifics was quite deliberate - they wanted the flexibility."

Mr Timothy said: "The point of a manifesto is to have a mandate to govern the country. It's not just about winning."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) John Stillwell / PA Wire.