Commons Confidential: Cameron's comb-over and Ed Miliband's jacket

News from the political grapevine.

Yvette Cooper delivers a nice line in self-deprecating humour, taking politics seriously but not herself. As a consequence, Labour’s shadow home secretary is much in demand as a speaker and she agreed to do the honours at a fundraiser in London for the perky grassroots website LabourList. Happy to make herself the butt of an anecdote, Cooper recounted how, sitting next to a royal protection officer at a monarchical event, she discovered the copper didn’t have a clue who she was. The invisibility, said Cooper, wasn’t a great verdict on her performance. She’s also happy to tell glorious tales at the expense of her insignificant other, Ed Balls. The protection officer, Cooper continued, enquired who else was present from the Labour Party. She pointed out the shadow chancellor. “Ah,” the relieved officer observed, “I wondered what Nick Griffin was doing here.” The physical resemblance must be uncomfortable for Balls, particularly as a snap exists of him as a young man in Nazi uniform during a dressing-up night at Oxford University.

Subsequent to this column disclosing that Ed Miliband has been instructed to keep his jacket on after a focus group found that female voters prefer him formally attired, I gather he’s also adopted a new handshake. MPs had likened physical exchanges of greetings with the Labour leader to grabbing a wet halibut. No longer. A visitor found the wannabe premier has developed a firmer handshake, squeezing tightly any proffered mitt to assert authority. One courtier handily posited this as evidence that Miliband goes from strength to strength.

Over in the Tory camp, the worry is Dave’s disappearing barnet. Despite an increasingly elaborate Cameron comb-over, the expanding white pate is visible from the press gallery. The PM’s cover-up is both strategic and vain. My snout whispered the bald fact is that the Lizard of Oz, Lynton Crosby, would find it trickier to portray a visibly ageing Cameron as the future.

The imminent sale and potential closure of that lefty canteen, the Gay Hussar in Soho, may happen before its manager, John Wrobel, busy cooking up a staff buyout, tracks down Michael Foot’s walking stick. Since this column reported that the gaffer yearned to hang on the wall the prop of its best-known patron, a cane purportedly used by Footie was presented by a diner but was rejected by Wrobel, who doubted its provenance. The stick would be useful should regulars mount the barricades to repel property speculators or – far worse – nouvelle cuisine.

Another Tory snout muttered that Boris Johnson has retained a large family home in the Henley constituency he vacated five years ago. I pass this on without further comment as the London Mayor seeks a Commons perch.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Image: Montage by Dan Murrell

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 06 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Are cities getting too big?

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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/