It has been too long since the election for Labour not to have put forward a credible and committed pension minister. It would have been too long at any time, but now- with the state pension undergoing fundamental change and the Chancellor about to announce a fundamental overhaul of the taxation system surrounding retirement savings, Labour’s absence from the debate has been scandalous.
The policy that was to spring from work commissioned by the previous shadow for the DWP has yet to be published. It sits unread in the filing system of a Cass computer.
The shadow pensions minister we have had since May, Nick Thomas-Symonds, has been too shadowy by half. On the rare occasion I heard him talk, he read some words prepared him by Frank Field, the only Labour politician who appeared to be trying. Shame on Labour – you were asleep at the wheel.
I am pleased to say that in Angela Rayner, Jeremy Corbyn has found a woman that I suspect will be a great boon to the pension debates we are currently having. I met her at the ILC’s Future of Retirement Saving debate yesterday and I was seriously impressed.
Angela Rayner started work at 16 as a carer and found her political legs with Unison who have given the leg up into parliament, where she won Ashton under Lyme in May with an increased majority.
She is feisty , fun, compassionate and highly intelligent. She clearly has the capacity to grasp big issues quickly. She has at Unison , a strong pensions department with the likes of Glyn Jenkins and John Gray champions of ordinary people’s pensions rights, proper and deep thinking unionists who still believe in and understand the value of organised labour.
But if this is to make Rayner sound a firebrand, think again. At the meeting she listened and responded to what she heard. She was in the company of pension experts, but she exerted authority in the room – as well as some gaiety.
There is not a lot that the Labour party can do to influence the budget, but there is much they can do to make sure that whatever changes arise are communicated with honesty. I have not heard this word in pensions for a long time, it – like a shadow minister- has been missed.
Osborne’s every announcement is so surrounded with vainglorious spin that it is hard to work out the honest truth. As my recent article on the introduction of the pension eit charge cap said, we get spin, spin and more spin.
So far, we have had but the Scottish Nationalists to tell it like it is. I admire the way that Black and Blackford have worked so far, filling a gap left by the loss of Steve Webb and Gregg McClymont from the house, but we need more.
Particularly we need someone in the House of Commons leading the pension debate. It is unfortunate that our Pensions Minister is upstairs (as we were yesterday). It is not the same.
We will soon know this Angela Rayner. Though she appears to have bruised every bone in her body, she gave 100% of herself to yesterday’s debate, spoke feelingly of herself and gave us an indication of her power as an orator and debater.
Jeremy Corbyn has chosen wisely.