The Sun's absurd claim of anti-Tory "BBC bias"

Tabloid claims that Question Time and the Basil Brush Show reveal anti-Tory bias.

Since defecting to the Conservatives last September, the Sun has become the party's most full-throated supporter on Fleet Street. Today the tabloid publishes an absurd "investigation" which, it claims, unearths evidence of an "alarming" BBC bias against the Tories.

Here's the charge sheet in full:

BBC News gave disproportionate coverage to the row over Tory donor Lord Ashcroft's tax status.

Labour panellists were given more time to speak on flagship political show Question Time.

A poll on The One Show ignored issues with Gordon Brown to ask only, "Is David Cameron too much of a toff to be PM?"

The Tory leader was stitched up when footage of him adjusting his hair was sneakily fed to all broadcasters.

And (this one is the clincher):

The Basil Brush Show featured a school election with a cheat called Dave wearing a blue rosette.

Taking these from the top, the BBC's coverage of the Ashcroft scandal was in no way disproportionate. The Sun protests that "controversy over the similar status of up to eight Labour donors got just a fraction of the coverage."

But none of the relevant Labour donors (such as Lord Paul) enjoy anything like the influence of Ashcroft, nor had they ever previously promised to end their non-dom tax status.

On Question Time, it's absurd for the paper to cite the fact that "Caroline Flint got SIX minutes more than Tory Justine Greening" as evidence of favouritism towards Labour. Could it not be that Greening's answers were simply more succinct? That certainly seems more likely than the idea that David Dimbleby, one of the corporation's most genuinely impartial broadacasters, is a Labour stooge.

It's hardly surprising that The One Show produced a five-minute piece on the background of the man who wants to be prime minister. Until recently, Cameron received only a fraction of the scrutiny that Gordon Brown, as head of the government, attracts.

As for that amusing video of Cameron fixing his hair, didn't it actually originate from the News Corp-owned Sky? Yes, it did.

I think I'll let the claim that the BBC is using The Basil Brush Show to pump out anti-Tory propaganda speak for itself.

The Sun's jihad against the BBC, like its decision to endorse the Conservatives, is based on little more than crude commerical considerations. The paper's editors fear that the corporation's vast online presence will destroy any hope that Murdoch can charge successfully for digital content.

When the Sun came out for him last year, Cameron said he was delighted to have the support of a "really important national newspaper". But even he must wince at its degeneration into little more than a Tory Pravda.

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George Eaton is political editor of 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/