Is Boris Johnson’s social care plan about to sail through the House of Commons? Today the Prime Minister will unveil the details of the package he is proposing. After putting his plans to the cabinet, it will be set out in the Commons before a 5 p.m. press conference where Johnson will appear alongside Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid. There are rumours afoot that No. 10 then may opt for a vote in the Commons this week at short notice — in a bid to push the plans through before the rebels have time to get organised.
However, slightly raining on Johnson’s parade is the fact that cabinet ministers have so far been kept out of the loop. Tory MPs are on the rampage and even if polling is fairly supportive on the plan, no one can quite predict what effect so clearly breaking a manifesto pledge at the next election. As for what Johnson will announce, he is expected to sell it as the ‘health and social care levy’ — with the money initially going to clearing the backlog and then later being used to fund social care.
The worry in the Treasury is that the money will never reach social care — instead it will all be swallowed up by the NHS. In a bid to ease such concerns, the plan is to ‘legally ringfence’ the rise — however, laws can clearly be overturned. There are also murmurs that Johnson could this week announce the end of the pensions triple lock while he’s at it — as a way of showing that this isn’t just about the working-age population taking a hit.
Will the plans get through his cabinet and party? In 10 Downing Street, cabinet approval is viewed as the easier of the two. The threat of an imminent reshuffle will certainly focus minds over the consequences of speaking out — but there could still be the odd minister willing to take a stand. Downing Street view backbench MPs as harder to win around. Over the weekend, parliamentarians were sending the whips quotes from articles suggesting the NI hike is regressive and the social care plan ineffective. The fact that it is being tied with funds to clear the backlog could make it harder to oppose.
With a majority in the region of 80, Johnson believes he can face down his critics. When the Chancellor addressed MPs last night at a reception of the 1922 Committee, he urged them to keep a united front and — like him — take their lead from the Prime Minister. With many of the objections coming from MPs worried about the consequences of breaking a manifesto pledge, it will ultimately come down to how much trust they place in Johnson to make the right decision.
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