I only really notice party politics when the conferences are on, and as I’m at the Tory party conference at the moment, I feel like a sheep having my annual “dip”. Whatever they’re dipping me in has changed since last year!
Last year the Conservatives were aggressively in policy making world. There was talk of a referendum but this was a box for the country to tick to get UKIP monkey off the Cameroonian back. Last night Newsnight played “spot the Cameroony”. It only managed to find Lord Willetts , who engaged one of his two brains to bat the prankster away. This is a much more serious place than most journalists would like it.
Cameron and Osborne and Gove are yesterday’s men. The odd reference is made to the work of those departed but for the most part it is as if the world is divided into AM and PM (ante- May and Post May’s accession).
The good news for pensions, and there isn’t much of it, is the arrival of John Godfrey (Nigel Wilson’s former wing-man) as head of the #10 Policy Unit. To have someone so level headed, financially aware and sympathetic to the best things in workplace pensions , is a great comfort. I was nearly tempted to have a ciggy with him when we bumped into each other, instead we had a beer and a chat. He’s got an office right above the door of #10. I wonder if he’s been given a bucket of tar to poor over unwanted visitors.
The delegates I talked to, who weren’t programmed into project May Group Think, were upset. People want conferences to be sensational, this isn’t. It is sombre.
If you had been in the LV/PPI morning meeting yesterday, you would have heard the blue-sky thinking of our new Pension Minister. I can’t report it, but speaking to my friend at #10, I didn’t get the impression that blue-sky thinking was particularly high on policy’s list of priorities.
Instead of radical policy, the Government has retreated into the safe (non European) home of technology adoption as a substitute for tough choices on funding. The Pensions Dashboard seems to have taken on preternatural importance in present thinking. It would seem that should we know what we haven’t got , by way of pension rights, we will be inspired to magic the funding for ourselves.
Like the Blue Sky Thinking of our Minister, the Pensions Dashboard is a distraction from the fundamental issues that have been ducked. There is no talk of the reform of tax relief promised in Budget 2015 , delayed in the Autumn Statement 2015 and ditched from Budget 2016. Nor is there any proper discussion (here) about the systemic problems to pension schemes of reducing interest rates and flooding the bond market through quantitative easing.
There is plenty of talk about intergenerational unfairness, but little consent to breaking our promises to the current retirees (as discussed by Paul Johnson). There is talk of a review of our corporate governance which might shut the door on Philip Green , after his yachts have bolted.
As I write this blog, I’m listening to IPSOS MORI explaining how their polls indicated BREXIT all along. The man talking, Sir Robert Worcester, is credited with coining the word “BREXIT”, retrofitting polls to suit history is axiomatic of this Conference, the Conservatives have reinvented themselves to be the party of “leave” all along.
The only game at this conference is guessing the change that BREXIT will bring. There is no consensus either in the market or in the halls of the Birmingham ICC. Because there is no certainty, there is no jollity – people are worried.
In my experience, politicians and their acolytes do their jobs rather better when they’re trying to solve problems than when they tell people how they’ve solved them.