Prophets rarely come in as unlikely a form as Andy Burnham MP, currently vying to become mayor of Manchester. In the insular world of political commentary, he is still principally tagged for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in a calamitous Labour leadership campaign in 2015. But go back to his brief but impressive time as Secretary of State for Health in 2009-2010. His big idea was to forge a cross-party consensus on providing social care, and he discussed with his opponents the idea of introducing a levy on inheritance tax to fund a new national care service.
The Conservatives were unaffected by this collegiate spirit and turned the proposal into a lurid ‘death tax’ poster – featuring a gravestone inscribed with ‘RIP Off’. Burnham has doughtily pressed the issue of a national care service ever since, but has struggled to get a mature reception from foe, or indeed friend. His pitch on the subject to Labour members in 2015 was shunned in favour of Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘anti-austerity’ package – as dreamy as a child’s Christmas list, but less carefully costed.
And yet something is changing. Plans for a £2bn Band Aid for the wounded social care system are in disarray after the Government abandoned plans to raise NICs this week (voters don’t much like living taxes either, it seems) and The Times and the Financial Times have both briefed that the ‘death tax’ is back on the table as a proposition to properly fund social care. The political hit may be worth it for the long-term fix.
Meanwhile Burnham was this week floating the idea of Manchester’s soon-to-be devolved NHS bypassing the problem of student-nurse finance by paying off the loans of new recruits. Give it another eight years, and everyone else might latch on to that idea too.