The Greens have had their best national polling performance since 1989. Photo: Getty
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The Greens may become a force to be reckoned with

It could be a blip, but the Green party's polling suggests a bright future.

An Ipsos-MORI poll for the Evening Standard the other day had the Green party on 8 per cent for the second month in a row, the same figure as the beleaguered Liberal Democrats. Is this a statistical blip or the start of something significant?

In last month’s European elections, the Greens gained an extra seat leaving them with three MEPs on 8 per cent of the popular vote, a performance that served to push the Lib Dems into fifth place. There has been little comment about this performance, probably because the mercurial voting patterns common in European elections are, to some degree, politically discountable.

Indeed, the Greens have spiked in the European elections before, memorably winning 15 per cent of the vote as long ago as 1989 before dropping back to low single digits. But what is interesting, albeit on the basis of two monthly tracker polls, is that this is their best national polling performance since then.

The implications of an electorally competitive Green party at next year’s general election are potentially significant, not least because it would clutter up the centre-left field. Most obviously, the Greens could offer a home for young voters and political purists, many of who simply don’t bother voting, but who may be persuaded to do so if there is heightened media attention about their chances.

A viable Green party also provides a ready option for disgruntled Lib Dems who don’t want to return to a Nick Clegg-led party. David Cameron’s apparent dismissal of environmental protection as “green crap” and the antipathy shown to wind power, means the coalition – and by extension the Lib Dems’ – credentials on the environment are weak.

For Labour, the Greens offer unwanted competition for those same wavering Lib Dem souls. Ed Miliband has been extremely successful in positioning Labour as the obvious haven for soft-left progressives. Given Labour’s poll lead is famously boosted by Lib Dem switchers, party strategists will cast a wary eye in their rear-view mirror if the Greens gather pace on their left flank.

Of course it could all be a blip. However it would be disastrous for party morale if the Lib Dems were to fall behind the Greens in the equivalent poll next month. Clegg will already be dreading the run-up to his party conference in the autumn without having to explain how he has led the Lib Dems to fifth place.

What is clear is that if they manage to sustain their current performance, the Greens will join with UKIP in conclusively sounding the death knell for our traditional system of three-party politics.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office. 

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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/