PMQs sketch: Cameron's awkward half hour

Even before it began you knew that Dave was not only without a paddle but probably without a creek.

The high moral ground in the House of Commons has been somewhat harder to climb in recent years, particularly for those who claimed it as a second home.

But it was suddenly back within the reach of all yesterday thanks to the News of the World for doing what it does best -- exposing a scandal at the heart of the establishment: itself.

In one fell swoop MPs shook off three years of being accused of having their hands in their constituents pockets to unite in condemnation of at least some of their accusers.

Indeed even before the Prime Minister arrived for PMQs you could hear them sharpening the guillotine, giving the wheels of the tumbril a bit of a polish and getting their high horses out of the stables.

There is nothing quite like a common enemy to unite MPs of all parties and as enemies go there cannot be many more common than the News of the World.

Could it only be days since the luckiest if them had quaffed champagne at the summer party of News International and shook hands, if lucky, with the NoW's owner Rupert Murdoch -- not to mention his presence on earth, or at least London, the flame-haired CEO Rebekah Brooks?

All of this was to be out behind them in defence of the people's outrage over phone-hacking, bungling by the police and general lying to all and sundry.

Even before PMQs began you knew that Dave was not only without a paddle but probably without a creek.

It was against that background that Ed Miliband knew he was onto a winner even before he got to his feet .This was particularly helpful because before Rupert rode to the rescue the Labour leader had been having another lean week.

Having had one survey which said 25 per cent of the population thought he was his brother David another put his personal rating among voters as lower than that of Ian Duncan Smith. That finding so worried Tory Party managers at the time that IDS was dumped.

Ed therefore could afford to look relieved as he asked the Prime Minister to "speak for the people" and agree to an inquiry into the allegations of phone-hacking, which have now spread from the rich and famous to the ordinary and vulnerable.

The Prime Minister, only hours back from a derailed PR trip to Afghanistan, trumped Ed by immediately promising two inquiries -- one into the press and its culture, and the second into the scale of backhanders to the police.

But even as Dave and Ed were doing their Mr Statesman performances and the House was doing its ritual braying in approval, all knew this was not why we were here.

As silkily as he could Ed said surely the BSkyB take-over by Rupert should now be referred elsewhere since the hacking scandal raised all sorts of issues.

Dave knew it was coming and knew he had no answer, or at least not one that anyone on his side had managed to come up with in the previous 12 hours.

His voice rose in direct proportion to his skin colour as he fumbled his way through all he had been given to say so far. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was acting in a "quasi-judicial" way over the BskyB bid he blustered.

At this the Commons camera cut to the elfin figure of Mr Hunt who was sitting, one assumes quasi-judicially, just down the front bench from the PM with the nervous look of someone to whom the parcel has just been passed as the music stops.

Now that he had the PM rocking with the punches Ed moved in again, this time demanding Dave support his call for CEO Rebekah to go.

This is a tricky one for the PM since she and he are close friends and some say he helped persuade Rupert to keep her on earlier in the year.

Ed knows all that, but has the added insurance of not being far enough up the food chain during Labour's time in office to get to know the Murdoch clan as closely as Tony did.

Having failed to get News International's endorsement for his own election he has nothing to lose, at the moment, from taking them on.

By now Dave had the pallor of someone with a serious claim against the tanning salon he had just left. George Osborne, usually his spare back-bone during PMQs looked equally lost, and Deputy PM Nick Clegg could only sit back and enjoy another week out of the firing line.

The Prime Minister managed to non-answer the question about friend Rebekah's future in a way which left everyone, probably including her, confused.

But the agony and the ecstasy was still not over because Ed had still to mention the "C" word: Coulson, Andy.

It is six months since Andy quit as Dave's Alistair Campbell because the phone-hacking inquiry was apparently putting him off his stroke. It is now alleged that Andy, former editor of the newspaper that dare not now speak its name, may have played some part in transferring funds from the coffers of the NoW to the pension plans of certain policemen.

"Didn't Dave regret taking him on?" asked Ed. "You're not kidding," Dave didn't say.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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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/