This summer was a busy one at the Etihad, with Manchester City spending over £100m improving their squad for the forthcoming football season. For sides like Manchester City, the solution to a perceived weakness in any particular position is recruit the best possible replacements, often from their rivals. Political parties are different, they are hamstrung by the need to appoint Ministers from their own political persuasion, and usually from the ranks of those who have been elected by the voters. Steve Webb was always going to be a hard act to follow as Pensions Minister. A likeable, intelligent man who truly understood pensions, his reward for possibly being the best ever Pensions Minister was to be dumped by the electorate of Thornbury & Yate and, anyway, he was a Liberal Democrat.
Following their victory in the General Election, the Conservatives’ solution to their perceived weakness in the area of pensions (the British electorate having apparently failed to elect a Conservative MP considered experienced enough in this area) was to appoint Ros Altmann to the House of Lords and make her Pensions Minister. Baroness Altmann is a well-known leading UK pensions expert and, although not an elected MP, looked like a good signing in the transfer window. However, the Baroness had a little secret, which she may have omitted to mention to Conservative Campaign Headquarters. It was only a little thing, hardly worth mentioning really. She was a fully paid up member of the Labour Party, having joined in March 2014, and has indeed continued to be a Labour Party member whilst being a Conservative Minister.
Is political rivalry interfering with governance? Read this blog post by @David_Piltz on Pensions Minster @RosAltmann http://ctt.ec/8ZWh3+
I don’t know whether the on-line Huffington Post (which broke the story) is early morning reading at the Cameron residence, but if so the milkman would probably have heard someone choking on his cornflakes. It’s like City discovering the star striker they have just paid a fortune for has got a long standing season ticket at United.
All this comes at a time when the Treasury (run by a Minister who is actually Conservative) is consulting on reforming pensions tax relief and might benefit from the knowledge of someone who actually understands pensions. The Consultation entitled “Strengthening the incentive to save” isn’t entirely clear who is going to be incentivised. Any change to the tax system is not going to be for the benefit of higher rate taxpayers. Lower rate taxpayers by implication have less money to put away for retirement and more competing immediate demands for their money than long term saving. A cynic might think the government, with slightly less than 5 years left to run, is more interested in saving money and reducing the current deficit, than in the pension that voters might put away for a retirement often decades away.
Back at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, I would love to be a fly on the wall. The Labour Party has expelled Baroness Altmann for being a Conservative Minister. Pity really as it was the only Minister they look likely of getting. Plus the publicity around asking her to renew her subscriptions would have been fun. I suppose it was the thought of the Conservative Pensions Minister having a vote on who is the next Labour Party leader that might have swung it. But what do the Conservatives do now with squeals of laughter coming from the opposition benches.