Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has challenged Boris Johnson to immediately begin the cross-party talks on reforming the social care system which he promised at last year’s general election.
The demand came in Davey’s first speech as leader to the Lib Dem annual conference, at which he promised to make the party “the voice of the 9 million carers in our country”.
In a highly personal speech, Sir Ed talked about his own experience of nursing his mother as a teenager before her death from cancer, arranging social care for his grandmother and caring for his profoundly disabled 12-year-old son.
“John is 12. He can’t walk by himself. He was 9 when he first managed to say ‘Daddy’,” said Davey.
“John needs 24/7 care – and probably always will. And that’s my biggest challenge: John will be on this planet long after Emily and I have gone. So we worry. No one can possibly love him like we do. Hold him like we hold him.
“And our fears are shared by so many parents. Many not as fortunate as Emily and me.
“So let me say this, to all of you who need care, to all of you who are carers, to the parents of disabled children, to the thousands of young people, caring for your mum or your dad.
“I understand what you’re going through. And I promise you this: I will be your voice. I will be the voice of the 9 million carers in our country.”
He told the conference - taking place virtually because of coronavirus - that the Covid crisis had made the need to fix the social care system “more urgent, not less”.
And he announced that he has written to invite the government, Labour Party and leading care organisations to begin cross-party talks in earnest.
On his arrival at 10 Downing Street in July 2019, Mr Johnson promised to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared”.
But the Conservative manifesto for the December election made clear that the prime minister did not have a plan in place, as he promised only to “build a cross-party consensus to bring forward an answer that solves the problem”. In the nine months since, there has been little sign of concerted work towards building that consensus.
Sir Ed today accused the Conservatives of “ripping up” previous cross-party agreement on reforms of the care system achieved during the coalition government.
“If ministers really care about the NHS, they need to care about care," he said.
“The cross-party talks on social care – long promised by Boris Johnson – cannot wait any longer."
Davey renewed his calls for an urgent public inquiry into the handling of the Covid pandemic.
The inquiry must “look into one government failure above all”, he said: “Ministers’ abject failure to protect people in care homes. The elderly people. And the carers.
“From the lack of tests and PPE, to the lies about a ‘protective ring’ around care homes, while people died in horrifying numbers.”
Davey accused the prime minister of dodging responsibility for “the chaos and harm his government has caused”, from the failure to get protective gear to frontline workers, to allowing his adviser Dominic Cummings to undermine public trust with his lockdown-breaking trip to Durham, delivering a test and trace “shambles” and botching the summer exam results.
He said the PM’s approach was: “Blame the civil servants. Blame Ofqual. Blame the teachers. Blame anyone but Boris Johnson.
“Johnson’s hero, Winston Churchill, said that the price of greatness is responsibility. It seems that’s a price this prime minister isn’t willing to pay.”
Elected as successor to Jo Swinson in August, Davey has used the virtual conference to issue a warning to his party that voters see them as “out of touch” and to try to move them away from their image as a single-issue party fixated on fighting Brexit.
Aides insisted he was “relaxed” about his setback on Sunday, when activists overwhelmingly backed a motion to make rejoining the EU an “objective” for the Liberal Democrats, rather than his preferred course of making it an “option on the table”.
After “three deeply disappointing general elections, in five tough years”, Sir Ed said the Lib Dems must recognise that “too many people think we’re out of touch with what they want”.
“We can’t fix this with a catchy new slogan,” he said. “Or by fighting the same battles, in the same way.
“The answer is to listen to what people are really telling us. And to change.”