Cameron steps up action against Warsi - but not Hunt

How much longer can the PM maintain this blatant double standard?

It has not been a good bank holiday weekend for Sayeeda Warsi. The charges against the Conservative Party chairman have escalated, and now David Cameron has referred the case to Sir Alex Allan, his independent adviser on ministers’ interests. Allan will consider whether Warsi has broken the ministerial code.

The referral came after Warsi wrote to the Prime Minister admitting that she did not tell civil servants that she and her husband’s second cousin, Abid Hussain, were both shareholders in a spice manufacturing firm when they visited Pakistan together on government business. This is a serious blow, and could lead to a long investigation. Warsi already faces a Lords’ inquiry and a possible police inquiry into her expenses (my colleague George Eaton has a detailed outline of the accusations against Warsi here).

Warsi does not, at present, appear to have many supporters within her own party, although Louise Mensch told the Today programme this morning that the charges against her were “very minor”.

What is really very striking is the contrast to the treatment of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, who Cameron has repeatedly refused to refer over allegations that he broke the ministerial code three times while overseeing the defunct BSkyB bid. As the level of contact between Hunt and James Murdoch became apparent last week, Cameron remained steadfast, telling the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that what Hunt said privately or publicly about the bid was irrelevant:

How he gave himself, in the words of the Permanent Secretary, a ‘vanishingly small room to manoeuvre’ in terms of how he ran that bid process, and he ran it very well and I think reached the right conclusions.

It is mind-boggling that the Prime Minister has maintained this position. Indeed, even Hunt’s last manoeuvre to stay in the job – namely, blaming his special adviser Adam Smith for inappropriate levels of contact with News Corp – is a breach of the code, which states that ministers should be responsible for the conduct of their special advisers.

Although the thorough investigation of Warsi may be an attempt to deflect attention, and a reflection of the fact that there have separately been grumblings of discontent about her competence, this looks like plain and simple hypocrisy. The Labour MP Michael Dugher phrased it well:

David Cameron's actions in this case draw into sharp relief his refusal to hold a similar investigation into Jeremy Hunt … Cameron is bending over backwards to defend Jeremy Hunt because he knows that it is his own judgment, in appointing a man he knew to be biased to oversee the BSkyB bid, that is in question.

How much longer can this be maintained?

Conservative chairman Baroness Warsi uses an iPad in the House of Lords. Photograph: Getty Images.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Stability is essential to solve the pension problem

The new chancellor must ensure we have a period of stability for pension policymaking in order for everyone to acclimatise to a new era of personal responsibility in retirement, says 

There was a time when retirement seemed to take care of itself. It was normal to work, retire and then receive the state pension plus a company final salary pension, often a fairly generous figure, which also paid out to a spouse or partner on death.

That normality simply doesn’t exist for most people in 2016. There is much less certainty on what retirement looks like. The genesis of these experiences also starts much earlier. As final salary schemes fall out of favour, the UK is reaching a tipping point where savings in ‘defined contribution’ pension schemes become the most prevalent form of traditional retirement saving.

Saving for a ‘pension’ can mean a multitude of different things and the way your savings are organised can make a big difference to whether or not you are able to do what you planned in your later life – and also how your money is treated once you die.

George Osborne established a place for himself in the canon of personal savings policy through the introduction of ‘freedom and choice’ in pensions in 2015. This changed the rules dramatically, and gave pension income a level of public interest it had never seen before. Effectively the policymakers changed the rules, left the ring and took the ropes with them as we entered a new era of personal responsibility in retirement.

But what difference has that made? Have people changed their plans as a result, and what does 'normal' for retirement income look like now?

Old Mutual Wealth has just released. with YouGov, its third detailed survey of how people in the UK are planning their income needs in retirement. What is becoming clear is that 'normal' looks nothing like it did before. People have adjusted and are operating according to a new normal.

In the new normal, people are reliant on multiple sources of income in retirement, including actively using their home, as more people anticipate downsizing to provide some income. 24 per cent of future retirees have said they would consider releasing value from their home in one way or another.

In the new normal, working beyond your state pension age is no longer seen as drudgery. With increasing longevity, the appeal of keeping busy with work has grown. Almost one-third of future retirees are expecting work to provide some of their income in retirement, with just under half suggesting one of the reasons for doing so would be to maintain social interaction.

The new normal means less binary decision-making. Each choice an individual makes along the way becomes critical, and the answers themselves are less obvious. How do you best invest your savings? Where is the best place for a rainy day fund? How do you want to take income in the future and what happens to your assets when you die?

 An abundance of choices to provide answers to the above questions is good, but too much choice can paralyse decision-making. The new normal requires a plan earlier in life.

All the while, policymakers have continued to give people plenty of things to think about. In the past 12 months alone, the previous chancellor deliberated over whether – and how – to cut pension tax relief for higher earners. The ‘pensions-ISA’ system was mooted as the culmination of a project to hand savers complete control over their retirement savings, while also providing a welcome boost to Treasury coffers in the short term.

During her time as pensions minister, Baroness Altmann voiced her support for the current system of taxing pension income, rather than contributions, indicating a split between the DWP and HM Treasury on the matter. Baroness Altmann’s replacement at the DWP is Richard Harrington. It remains to be seen how much influence he will have and on what side of the camp he sits regarding taxing pensions.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has entered the Treasury while our new Prime Minister calls for greater unity. Following a tumultuous time for pensions, a change in tone towards greater unity and cross-department collaboration would be very welcome.

In order for everyone to acclimatise properly to the new normal, the new chancellor should commit to a return to a longer-term, strategic approach to pensions policymaking, enabling all parties, from regulators and providers to customers, to make decisions with confidence that the landscape will not continue to shift as fundamentally as it has in recent times.

Steven Levin is CEO of investment platforms at Old Mutual Wealth.

To view all of Old Mutual Wealth’s retirement reports, visit: products-and-investments/ pensions/pensions2015/