Labour came under fire last night as it was reported that Thangam Debbonaire recently told a meeting that introducing free social care would “give the Tories a stick to beat Labour with”. The opposition frontbencher claimed that the policy would cost £100bn and more than the annual NHS budget, according to Disability News Service. The apparent dismissal of the idea that Labour should champion a National Independent Living Support Service, free at the point of use for older and disabled people, has disappointed some Labour activists – particularly as it comes at a time when Boris Johnson is being criticised for failing to act on the social care crisis, or indeed failing to show any sign at all that he intends to deliver on his promised plan.
Labour sources maintain that this does not represent a change in policy and stress that the party remains committed to a universal system of social care that is needs-based and publicly funded, as per the 2019 manifesto, which Labour needs to build from. Party supporters will want on-the-record statements from Keir Starmer and shadow social care minister Liz Kendall to clarify the situation, however. It is worth noting that there is a difference between the 2019 manifesto commitment (free personal for older people, a lifetime cap on personal contributions to care costs and additional care packages) and the conference-backed policy that the DNS says Starmer endorsed last year (free social care).
But, this morning, politicos are talking about the Matt Hancock story. The Sun has revealed – with security camera footage as evidence – that the Health Secretary has been having an affair with an aide during the pandemic. While a married minister snogging in the middle of the afternoon (on polling day in May) has understandably caught people’s attention, many have declared that the real story is the hiring process and potential conflict of interest – i.e. the scoop that The Sunday Times got back in November. (At first an unpaid aide, Gina Coladangelo was made a paid non-executive director of the health department last year.)
This is certainly Labour’s focus. “Ministers, like everyone, are entitled to a private life. However, when taxpayers’ money is involved or jobs are being offered to close friends who are in a personal relationship with a minister, then that needs to be looked into. The government needs to be open and transparent about whether there are any conflicts of interests or rules that have been broken,” a Labour spokesperson said.
The version involving an affair in the office is what has got people talking, though. And there is the question of whether the Health Secretary broke his own lockdown laws, which would surely be a resigning matter – even for this government. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.