I thought parliament yesterday experienced a Narnia moment. The moment where the snows start melting and normal life comes back. It was in the roar of acclamation that came from the 1922 Committee Room when it was announced that there was only one candidate’s successful application for the post of Prime Minister. After three harsh years of trauma, it was like warmth and sunshine were returning.
Of course there were many not in the room. There were and are disgruntled supporters of the growth alliance and those who consider their only job security after the end of this parliament rests with the charisma of Boris Johnson. For them, the prospect is exile for a couple of years with the explicit promise in Johnson’s statement on Sunday night, that he will contest the party leadership when the next election arises.
It is important that the Conservative Party marginalises those who refuse to come behind the current leader. there is no place for factionalism within the party. Nor is there any place for cross-party rancour as we have seen over the past two years. I hope that we have a more boring Government who looks for consensus with Labour and inclusion of the Scottish Welsh and Irish parties in the house of commons. I would like to see Keir Starmer included in Government, not perhaps in the Cabinet but in the kind of way we have seen in pensions policy between Guy Opperman and the late Jack Dromey.
I would like too, to see a more co-operative approach to pensions policy between the Treasury and DWP. The events of the past few weeks remind us that funded corporate pensions are not just workplace savings plans but leviathans of the deep which when they surface can create waves that threaten to swamp the economy. The DWP and HMT need to build regulatory framework in accord with the fiscal and monetary policy that the Treasury pursues. That means looking hard at the role of regulators and ensuring we better understand the long-term funding requirements of our corporate DB pension schemes.
Similarly, there needs to be a united view on state pensions and benefits. We need to be clear about who is being targeted for support over the short term and what the future of the triple-lock and State Pension Age is – over the longer term.
Finally, the pensions industry needs certainty over the matters that impact savers, most immediately, what we can expect from our investments in gilts and bonds, what we can expect as annuity rates and what support we can get in managing our DC pots – most notably from the pensions dashboards. Somewhere lost in the mayhem, there is a pension awareness week – it is next week. Will we be able to tell those anxious about their pensions what has happened? Will we be able to reassure them their savings and pensions are safe?
The answers depend on whether we can come out of the permafrost that has dominated Westminster this year (some would say going back to 2017) and move forward with common endeavour. That will depend on whether the damage that has been done can be repaired, we need Tom Scholar and his spirit back in the Treasury, we need Guy Opperman and his spirit back in the DWP and we all need to work with a common purpose to ensure that people are less hungry, less cold and less depressed this winter.
We may be having a Narnia moment, but when the snow thaws , we will see the damage done the land. The cost of the messing about this year, which has seen no progress and huge wastage – will be paid for in years to come. We will hear the bad news next Monday but it will be easier to take – that we have a proper Government in prospect.