At the depth of her unpopularity in 1980, Margaret Thatcher attended the Tory Party conference in Brighton. Unemployment was bad and getting worse, as was inflation. The embrace of monetarism, far from putting the inflationary genie back in the bottle, was instead putting smaller companies out of business as they found it impossible to get funding from the banks (multinationals, on the other hand, had no such problem).
Opinion polls showed the Tories’ ratings in free fall. Some in Mrs T’s own party were becoming nervous. There would, surely, have to be some kind of re-think? Other might have stopped and thought. Not her. “To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning!” she declared to conference.
Fast forward 37 years and we have another woman Prime Minister, one who wasted no time in comparing herself to Mrs T. At her first PMQs, Theresa May stared down Jeremy Corbyn and goaded him with “Remind him of anyone?” She was in no doubt that she was the true heir to the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. But then came the manifesto, its dreaded “dementia tax”, and the widespread revulsion from voters.
There was only one thing to do: make the equally dreaded U-Turn, but ensure it was spun in such a way to ensure that the more compliant part of the media knew to tell their readers that it was no such thing. Also, any idea that there ever was a dementia tax could then be painted as a scare story by those ghastly socialists. The strong and stable imperial progress of the Empress Theresa could then resume!
First with the story, proving that editor George Osborne still has rather good contacts within the Tory Party, was the Evening Standard, which has put it on its front page: “PM’s emergency move comes as Conservative candidates panic over ‘Dementia Tax’ … NOW MAY GOES INTO REVERSE ON SOCIAL CARE COST”. The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg confirmed “Here it comes - 'consultation will include an absolute limit' i.e. A cap, which was not in manifesto last week”. A blatant and panicked U-Turn.
But then came the spin. Faisal Islam of Sky News recorded its application: “PM says Corbyn & Labour is trying to scare old people with ‘fake claims’ about social care system”. What? You heard that right. “Theresa May: ‘these are good and sensible plans... but since my manifesto has been published, has been subject to fake claims’”. “My manifesto”.
There was more. “May: Green Paper ‘will include proposals for an absolute limit on what people have to pay’ - that its not what the manifesto briefing said”. Kevin Maguire of the Mirror was unimpressed. “Theresa May killing irony by accusing Corbyn of ‘fake claims’ when she falsely accuses him of wanting to abolish the army”. Michael Deacon of the Telegraph confirmed this: “Less than two minutes before accusing Corbyn of ‘manipulating people's fears’, May suggested Corbyn would abolish the Army”.
The media has already seen through this desperate U-Turn. And there is still the means testing of the winter fuel allowance to go. Owen Jones was right - you can’t trust a word Theresa May says. She is no Margaret Thatcher.