As the election hype went into overdrive after Gordon’s trip to Buck House I got into a tiff with a Conservative chum over the party’s “death tax” poster, the one which wrongfooted Andy Burnham on the delicate question of funding care for the elderly.
Chummy was delighted that Labour’s new white paper had been forced to retreat from its 2009 green paper proposal - no more than such - that people might be required to pay a flat contribution to their care, deducted from their estate after death. Cries of U-turn!
This election seems to have stumbled on a new trick: blending an ancient political art form - posters - with new interactive and online technologies which allow voters to mutate them
As David Cameron’s health secretary in waiting Andrew Lansley was quick to assert (no point in not having your cake and eating it in an election campaign, is there?) the death tax option is still there, lurking in the small print.
How so? The arm’s length commission which Burnham is now proposing will not have a free hand to forge a consensus, only to decide how best to proceed with a comprehensive and compulsory national care service. I don’t think it will happen this way, do you?
This is my issue with Chummy. He thought the Tory poster with the Gothic cemetery headstone was a cracker, one which stirred up public alarm. So it was. In fact, this election seems to have stumbled on a new trick: blending an ancient political art form - posters - with new interactive and online technologies which allow voters to mutate them.
An accident maybe, but it can only be good for citizen engagement; better than election TV “debates”, I suspect. But it is high risk stuff.
Thus Labour’s “Don’t let him take Britain back to the 1980s” poster - Cameron perched on TV detective Gene Hunt’s Audi Quattro - designed by a supporter, was neatly reversed by a savvy Tory, celebrating 1980s nostalgia, not strikes.
The Guardian’s Gordon “Reservoir Dogs” Brown poster (“Step outside, posh boy”) which started as a 1 April joke - I fell for it - quickly went viral for real. The NHS creative who harnesses this discovery to a successful public health campaign, one that gets people engaged, will earn an OBE.
It may not feel like it as the election hype gets louder, but it will end eventually. Health secretary Lansley - that remains my working assumption - may then find that he has scored a tactical success at the expense of a strategic embarrassment.
Why? Because the Tory figures for elderly care, £8,000 worth of voluntary insurance that would “guarantee” free residential care, are even ropier than Labour’s, experts agree. Ageing demographics dictate that we find money somewhere.
I am assuming here that by the time you read this Burnham’s over-hasty Personal Care at Home Bill will have become law in the pre-election “wash-up”, albeit subject to post-election votes in the Lords and Commons which could improve it.
Labour had to make that concession to get it through the Lords. But it is likely to be the Tories picking up the pieces. Co-payments, which require us to contribute as individuals, will be even more necessary as the “age of austerity” bites. Yet the campaign has been drifting away from this harsh new reality in recent days. Labour’s half-cock promise of “free residential care” is bad enough, aping the SNP government’s costly error in Scotland. But the new Tory pledge to overrule NICE on NHS access to disputed cancer drugs is enough to make me weep.
Tabloid driven, medically ignorant and costly, contradicting their promise to “end political interference”, it comes on top of shadow chancellor George Osborne’s unfunded promise to half reverse Labour’s national insurance increase.
Spooked by shaky polls, Tory strategists are throwing caution to the wind. Will we fall for it? Probably.