Burning rebellion in Tory party washes down to sizzle over Boris Johnson's social care tax hike

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports on the latest social tax developments

It seems almost unbelievable that on the day the Telegraph declares Boris Johnson's massive tax hike to pay for the NHS and Social care a "death-knell for Conservatism", the overwhelming majority of Tory MPs will vote for it.

And yet, that is what is likely to happen on Wednesday night – as what felt like a burning rebellion just days ago is washed down to a sizzle.

Even some of the most staunch opponents to a rise in National Insurance have told me that they plan to abstain and are suggesting that others do the same.

"I’m telling colleagues we can’t be making tax and spend policy by rebellion or there will be chaos," said one backbencher.

"We’re going to vote for it, holding our noses," said another.

What are the new social care reforms and how much will it likely cost?

But don’t think that this guaranteed majority for Mr Johnson means there are no concerns within their party.

In fact, Westminster is full of swirling moans about the way this policy was designed and announced and what it could mean for the party.

The key worries come from a variety of directions. First, the one dominating today - a sense that this money will be sucked up by the NHS and then no longer be available for social care.

As the former deputy prime minister and MP, Damian Green, argued to me – social care is in a "deep crisis".

He said: "The amount the government is raising - £36 billion - is a very significant sum."

Damian Green Credit: PA

He added the NHS had reasonable but very large demands – and he didn’t want to find out, two years down the line that social care has only the "crumbs of the table".

That is a worry being increasingly discussed in tea-rooms of Westminster – to which MPs have now returned.

One senior figure put it this way: "Can you imagine turning around to the NHS in two years and saying ‘we’re taking the billions of pounds back?’ That just won’t happen."

Another concern that I’m hearing from the right and left of the Conservative party is that this tax – national insurance – is hitting a younger and poorer population – harder than say income tax, which would also hit pensions and rent earned by landlords.

The government has persuaded potential rebels on that front in three ways: by laying out how NI is progressive among the group who pays it, tweaking the package to include working pensioners, and releasing figures that suggest raising this amount through income tax would require a larger percentage point increase.

But that hasn’t totally silenced those concerns. 

And finally is the other argument coming more from the right of the party – the argument from those who will despair at that Telegraph frontpage.

"It just feels unTory," said one MP – who argued that an insurance system would be a fairer way to raise money.

He also argued that it was wrong for the government to conflate a pandemic response with a long term need for social care funding, arguing that a temporary tax rise followed by an insurance based solution for care would have made MPs happier.

However, the backbencher said the government would "get its way today" but that there was significant unease and that the hope was that constructive engagement with ministers on issues could lead to the proposals being tweaked along the way.

For Mr Johnson, however, the unease will be bearable as he considers whether his gamble could pay off.

He won’t like the headlines in the papers but will hope that his claim that the pandemic has forced his hand (a claim strongly refuted by the IFS who say taxes for social care were needed before Covid) and that Labour doesn’t have an alternative.

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Is that fair? Labour sources certainly say they would be prepared to raise taxes to find solutions, just not this one. One good clue to a Labour policy comes from Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham.

He spoke to ITV news about wealth taxes and raising capital gains tax as possible ways to fund higher pay within the care sector and a system that would place social care on NHS terms – with a contribution from older people and then all charges abolished.

"Putting a cost cap on a broken system is not a solution to social care- you should start by paying staff more and get poverty pay for looking after other people’s mums and dads," he said.

"Rather than giving those staff a pay rise – the government has given them a tax rise," he added.