Tories claim poster success in defeating policy that never was

The Tories have been in touch about their Death Tax ad created by their, ahem, agency Euro RSCG. Apparently it was a key driver in defeating something that didn’t exist. Great job on that.

The shamelessly scaremongering ad (gravestone/old people, anyone?) they say was a key driver in defeating a £20,000 levy that the Tories said Labour planned to take from voters to help pay for elderly care.

Except that this ad was based on an erroneous story in the Guardian that claimed health secretary Andy Burnham was seriously considering the move.

Burnham dismissed the idea in a press conference on February 9 where he said “the Guardian story suggests a £20,000 flat levy and I do not believe, I am not currently considering that as a lead option for reform”.

He went on to explain that the figure was used in a green paper in 2009, but he did not believe that a flat levy of that kind would be the right way to go before concluding: “I can say to you very categorically today that that is not what I am considering”.

How clear is that? Not quite clear, okay well let’s see a few days later Joan Bakewell on BBC R4 on the World at One had something to say as well. She rightly called it a “grotesque poster” and said it was an “insult to everybody”.

“You know we’ve had a lot of pious talk recently about how we must salvage the reputation of parliament because of the expenses scandal, but the scandal is still going on, because people are telling lies. That poster, which was that Gordon Brown wants 20,000 when you die, is merely one of a series of options being put forward as a way of stopping people having to sell their houses, people don’t want to have to sell their houses as they get older and this option, paying 20,000 out of your estate when you die is just one proposal put forward in good faith. To turn it into this grotesque poster is an insult to everybody and it damages the case for older people and their serious care.”

It wasn’t even just government ministers and R4 even friends of the Tories in the press were taking issue. Daniel Finkelstein, the one time Young Social Democrat and advisor to William Hague, the executive editor at The Times said he would take issue with it as well a day after Burnham spoke.

“A friend rang me up last night and asked me what I thought of the new Conservative poster. He pointed out that I had attacked Gordon Brown for falsely asserting that the Tories would remove tax credits and the child trust fund from low earners. Would I now take issue with the Tories for asserting that the Government would impose a £20,000 flat levy on those who die, when that is not their policy? Yes, I said, I would take issue with it, “Finkelstein wrote.

There you have it. The whole story. So to Tory central office and their ad agency all you can say is take credit for whatever you like. As no one else is.

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