An object lesson in how not to make law

Solvency II debate reflects a frustration with EU politics.

Solvency II, the forthcoming regulatory directive for Europe, has been labelled as “an object lesson in how not to make law”.

Steve Webb, UK’s Minister for Pensions, turned up the heat on the insurance space last month when he called the European Union to abandon the new changes that are being proposed by Solvency II, the ever-delayed package of regulatory guidelines that will shape the insurance business in the EU in the next few years.

His concern had particularly to do with the effect of Solvency II on benefit pension schemes. According to a working paper by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA), the new regulatory changes could add a cost of £450bn to pension schemes.

Leaving no room for doubt he added: "any such new rules would harm businesses’ ability to invest, grow and create jobs, and many more schemes could be forced to close. I continue to urge the Commission to abandon these reckless plans".

Other heavy weights in the British government have expressed their concerns too. Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Treasury Committee, has revealed his ill-feeling on Solvency II, following a lengthy debate with the chief of the new Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) Andrew Bailey.

Days before Webb’s statement, Tyrie said “Strengthening and harmonising the prudential regulation of the insurance sector across the EU could bring significant benefits. But we haven’t seen any yet. Even now, no one can be sure what it will add”.

Andrew Bailey had labelled the process the EU has followed on Solvency II as “shocking” and the costs arising from the delay in its implementation as “staggering”. The UK insurance industry is the third largest in the world and a key activity of the UK economy. So it is only reasonable that the local watchdog, and other involved government officials, will express their concerns on any changes that are likely to affect consumers and hinder the development of the business locally.

However, the criticism is also reminiscent of the current mood with the way a relevant part of Britain feels policies are being carried out in the EU. The sentiment is that well intentioned and necessary reforms, drag indefinitely under the hand of the EU and become so cumbersome that can make the problem it came to address worse.

Britain will hold a referendum to decide whether it remains a member of the EU by the end of 2017, that is in four years time. The deadline of Solvency II has consistently been postponed from November 2010, to November 2012, then January 2013 and January 2014. Now, it is not likely to happen before January 2016. The chance of a sharp u-turn on the envisioned Solvency II regime seems unlikely, considering how EU’s policymakers have acted in recent years. By the time it comes into place, the UK might feel comfortable enough with its Individual Capital Adequacy Standards regime, just when it needs to decide how convenient it is to remain in the EU.

Photograph: Getty Images

Carlos Pallordet is a writer for Timetric

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Copeland must be Labour's final warning

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.