The independent London newspaper

Look at the big picture: what sort of society do we want?

25 May, 2017

Claire-Louise Leyland (right), the Conservative candidate contesting the knife-edge Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, is backing Theresa May’s so-called ‘dementia tax’

THE debate over the government’s policy on social care and consequently the “dementia tax”, could go in a direction few were able to predict at the start of the election campaign.

You can either say politicians live in a bubble and cannot accurately assess how people will react to a budgetary decision – witness the U-turn on the national insurance increase recently – or they have become so entangled with dreary bean-counting they have lost sight of the real picture.

Anyone with real knowledge of the lives of ordinary people could have forseen the debacle over the unfairness of the dementia tax or the threat to the winter fuel allowance.

It is not a question of whether the elderly need the allowance but that many of them, not particularly well-off, feel they need it.

You can then either compartmentalise the arguments and discuss, for example, the thorny questions of who will pay – and how they will pay – for social care.

For years the theme has been rehearsed that Britain is getting older, the tax burden is heavy and often unfair, the young cannot be expected to pay to keep the elderly at the present standard of living.

This, of course, is a form of inter-generational sniping which seems to have been accepted as a legitimate part of public discourse.

Justifying their arguments, most parties tinker with what is seen as the national budget, suggesting that so much should be spent on such items as the welfare of young children, education, the elderly, housing etc.

Few take much notice of them because it all seems pie in the sky.

With our first-past-the-post system only the Conservatives or Labour can form the next government. Both the Lib-Dems and the Green are using the election to build their forces for future years.

Labour’s manifesto is the first in decades to begin to question: What sort of society do we want?

It doesn’t provide the answers or even shade in all the parts to make up a picture but it hints at what is possible.

Don’t we need to look at the whole picture again? At society as it is?

Thinking laterally perhaps we can start by turning society upside down. Don’t look at things item by item, but at society as a whole.

There is the thorny and hitherto untouchable question of our annual military expenditure which won’t go away. Bear in mind we are part of the NATO alliance.

Also, we are no longer a world power.

Let’s debate the society we live in – and the society we want.

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