So – who saw that coming? Not the pollsters – representatives of YouGov looked incredibly sheepish when the exit polls came out on Thursday night, and will now be subject to an independent enquiry… Paddy Ashdown is eating his hat. Alastair Campbell is eating his kilt.
Although the pollsters got at least one thing right, not only did we lose a Pensions Minister but a Shadow one too as the SNP whitewash in Scotland went as expected.
Resignations were like buses. You waited for them for years, and then three came in the space of an hour. Miliband (of the Ed variety – would it have happened had it been David??), Clegg and Farage nobly wiping away the tears whilst falling on their swords. The Opposition at large has been desimated despite a certain regional empowerment, which seems to therefore give David Cameron a license to press on …
But when it comes to the subject of pensions, I really hope he doesn’t.
He has appointed Dr Ros Altmann as Pensions Minister. She brings with her a wealth of experience, but faces a number of significant challenges:
1) We’ve just been through the largest amount of sustained change in the field of occupational pensions in a lifetime. The industry and the public need time to adjust to these changes. Some of them (for example the promised consultation on flexibility within defined benefit schemes) haven’t even landed yet (if indeed they will at all).
2) Whether you liked his politics or not, Steve Webb had longevity. Gregg McClymont provided knowledgeable challenge in the role as Shadow Pensions Minister. Both have gone. Dr Altmann knows her subject, but will surely take time to become accustomed to the role.
3) The Conservatives have promised an in/out EU referendum by 2017 – that brings with it all kinds of uncertainties, not only economic, but also on the degree of compliance with IORP II – which for the uninitiated is Europe’s attempt to level the pensions playing field across Member states and includes numerous governance and reporting targets. IORP II is scheduled to be implemented before the referendum…
4) A Conservative election pledge was to reduce tax efficiency of pension scheme contributions for those earning over £150,000 per annum. Few will weep at this change, but it will surely lead to greater disengagement at Board level on the subject of pensions.
It is time to take stock. Not to tinker with the system. I really hope Dr Altmann takes a breath and looks around. The last five years have served to raise pensions up the public’s agenda. Time for a pause, careful consideration, and a balanced response. Time for a period of stability, rather than pushing through yet more change.