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Can cross parties reach a cross-party consensus?

‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’

By guest blogger BOB FERGUSON

Now that the tinsel has been packed away for another year, we are apparently heading for the start of cross-party talks on social care reform. Before polling day, experts believed there was already enough common ground to produce what Boris Johnson – never knowingly understated – later called a “Beveridge moment”. Given the new parliamentary arithmetic, however, consensus is no longer strictly necessary. So, will it be attempted, and if so, with what degree of good faith?

When the Tories declared their hand for the election, only two proposals spoke (vaguely) to reconstruction: the hoary old promise that no one would have to sell their home to fund their care, and an undertaking to build a cross-party consensus. There was no roadmap for reform, despite the PM’s earlier claim that he had “a clear plan” to fix social care. Having been caught in a lie, it would have been entirely in keeping with his unlawful advice to HM had he used the post-election Queen’s Speech to explain that, paraphrasing Orwell’s “war is peace” paradox: a blank sheet of paper is a plan.

So what’s Johnson’s game? With his government’s ideas cupboard conspicuously bare, there’s a fair chance some splinters, if not complete planks, from opposition platforms will feature in “the range of options” under discussion. Labour’s core plan was for tax-funded “free personal care”, provided under ethical standards; a goody bag that might have been dreamed up by some right-on focus group, its appeal as comforting as toasted marshmallows on a frosty night, its practicality untested.

Although ethical commissioning in itself is hardly objectionable, some of Labour’s standards (should they survive to reach the negotiating table) could prove too rich for the Tory palate. Transparency and profit-capping, in particular, were designed to disarm the “greed is good” brigade, cracking down on excessive profits extracted from the exploitation of residents – the industry’s dirty secret. Were any providers to quit the market as a consequence, state take-over of the service was identified as a possible fallback. In Conservative eyes, that would be tantamount to hoisting the red flag over Downing Street. Worse still, affirmative action to restore the predominance of local authority provided services – probably the most emetic ingredient of the Labour recipe – would have the PM retching a pledge to “die in [another] ditch”.

With Labour suffering one of its periodic nervous breakdowns, its leadership in much the same state as Schrodinger’s cat, what credibility does it offer when it can’t even agree what it stands for? It looks almost reconciled to the role of scapegoat, Johnson’s insurance against a failure to secure a meeting of minds, especially one that produces his preferred outcome – if he knows what that is. The government’s majority, meanwhile, gives it a free pass to do what it wants, although it might just be willing (in the spirit of “healing”, say) to throw the opposition a bone: a sliver of the ethical agenda, perhaps.

But ethics? In parliament? During an unprecedentedly grubby election campaign, conducted in a miasma of equivocation and obfuscation, the truth was only acknowledged where it was totally compatible with the party line; bare-faced lies became the lingua franca of political discourse, no practitioner of the black art more dedicated than the PM himself. These same people pronouncing on ethics is a prospect too hideous to contemplate.

A government led by the master of mendacity inspires many feelings, but trust is not one of them. A transformative “Beveridge moment” for social care looks a forlorn hope, particularly if measured against the radical example of the original. Without the momentum generated by something like the collapse of a major provider, I fear it will be allowed to slip quietly back to its native habitat – the long grass. There again, when paintings of monkeys can be commissioned to promote, of all things, an anti-racism campaign, nothing is impossible.

  • The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.

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