Friday, December 02, 2005

Each extra strong mint and ounce of pipe tobacco

The Guardian is all very well, but here is my column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Paying up for pensions

How much do the voters like public sector workers? Liberal Democrats like them very much. Labour loves them too. Neil Kinnock’s policy sometimes seemed to consist of little beyond a recitation of their job titles. “Doctors and nurses, nurses and doctors, lovely, lovely people,” as the Spitting Image parody went.

But this affection may soon be tested to destruction. As things stand, the government intends to allow public sector workers to continue to retire at 60 while the rest of us work until we are 67 to pay their pensions.

It’s hard to imagine this arrangement being practicable in a society so fixated on youth (there’s a sentence I wouldn’t have written 10 years ago). It is also hard to imagine a government putting it to the people being re-elected.

John Hutton has to defend it on Monday in his first question time as secretary for work and pensions. He fell back on the formula that the government has “no plans to revisit” public sector pensions. As everyone knows, this is a complicated way of saying absolutely nothing.

Pensions are not just interesting because none of us is getting any younger. They are a policy area where the outlines of a world after New Labour can be seen. There is a growing consensus that the present set up is too complicated and that we need a higher basic pension and fewer credits and special allowances.

Now that David Laws has replaced Steve Webb as Lib Dem pensions spokesman we seem to have joined this consensus. (That’s the trouble with the current system: you need to be nicknamed “five brains” like Steve or to have run a merchant bank when you were 14 like David to understand it.)

Unfortunately the consensus does not embrace Gordon Brown, as he made clear in his letter to Adair Turner. In part it is because the Treasury fears the cost of higher basic pensions.

But it is also because, deep down, Gordon Brown would like to have control over each extra strong mint and ounce of pipe tobacco sold in Britain. This is called socialism – my younger readers will not have come across it before – and it runs even deeper in the Labour Party than a love of public sector workers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

for everyone who like pipes and tobacco: