I am at the Conservative party conference sitting between two earnest ladies working hard. Behind me someone who is called Giles is braying into his mobile phone about how much champagne he drank last night. Most people I have met have been lobbying for something or other and wear red badges. I wear a blue badge which tells people I am representing the Cities of London and Westminster. I am considered “real”.
I feel surreal. The Conservative party is in Government on a wafer thin majority. As a result of the annihilation of the Liberals and internal feuding in the Labour Party, it has (at least in England and Wales) little opposition. None of this makes very much sense.
It is presiding over two policy agendas. The Home Front is dominated by the economy, the Away front is dominated by the way we manage BREXIT. Brexit is so much bigger than anything else going on that all the usual stuff about knocking other parties seems a little irrelevant. The opposition is now in Brussels.
There is a feeling that everything has changed , though nobody can quite point out how. The pound is back down after Theresa May made it clear that what she is serious about Britain leaving the EU. The stock-market is back over 7000.
Pensions have changed, I met Richard Harrington for the first time. He seemed someone genuinely interested in what he was doing without a clue on how to do it. He said he was there because of Theresa May and Damian Greene and that he had never paid pensions any attention till he pitched up in the job. I’m not sure how much more I can say as the meeting I was in this morning pitched to Chatham House rules half-way through!
Things feel like that when you’re here. There is a sense of things being made up as people go along. Jonathan Lipkin of the IA talked to me last night and gave me his macro-economic view, it seemed to make sense at the time but now I’ve forgotten what he said and whatever is going on doesn’t.
All I can conclude is that there has never been a time when the old certainties are less certain. There was a time when I was represented at this event by the PLSA (NAPF) but the influence of the old pension lobby appears to have been replaced by a small group of policy wonks from the insurance companies. There appears to be nobody asking Government relevant questions about anything other than the type of advice needed to make pension freedoms work!
This is the first of a couple of reports I want to place on this over the next 36 hours, Hopefully the next one will feel less confused!