Tag Archives: tory

Retirement is a concept of the past

Opponents to the UK public sector strikes today are arguing that the public-sector workers all have fairly safe and secure jobs and get gold-plated pensions far higher than anything anyone in the private sector can expect. I heard on the radio this morning someone arguing that a teacher on £30k can expect a pension pot of over half a million pounds.

Supporters of the strike argue that there is a vast difference between the pension agreements of MPs and Whitehall mandarins and a frontline worker in a Job Centre. Also, they find it unfair that they signed up to a contract – that includes an agreed pension – and it is now being changed so they need to pay in more and work longer before seeing a penny. Public sector workers often argue that their pension is ‘deferred pay’ – they earn less in the present because they can get a greater pension.

There are examples supporting both arguments. It seems that never the twain shall meet. If you argue for reform, you are uncaring and not supporting the right of the public sector to expect the nice retirement they deserve for years of toil. If you support the public sector workers, you just fail to see the need for reform.

But isn’t the reality that retirement is no longer an option. It’s a dated concept. It’s something planned back in the post Second-World War era.

A male born in the UK in 1945 had a life expectancy of 63 years. A male born in 2001 had a life expectancy of 75. A male or female born today has a life expectancy of over 80 years (World Bank and UK Statistics Agency figures.)

With a retirement age of 65 in the UK, the state pension was designed to pay out a couple of years *after* the average male would have already died. Disregarding any tinkering with the retirement age and assuming it remains at 65 means the *average* person will have a couple of decades on state pension before they die.

If the state pension age had risen in line with life expectancy, people would not be able to claim a state pension until they are about 82 years old.

The unions don’t like this, and the employers (especially public sector) can’t face up to it either. The bottom line is that the post-war concept of retirement is not sustainable using the same methods to pay for it that worked 50 years ago. The entire system needs a top-to-bottom revision in both the public and private sector.

So the teachers can go on strike, and the government can hector them about needing to do something to help the reform, but the real reform is to wake up to the fact that we will all need to be working until later in life – unless you get rich early on and invest your wealth in paying for a future of leisure…
Car dumped in cemetery

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On yer bike scroungers! Council tenants to get the boot…

The new Work secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, has caused outrage by suggesting that the unemployed should move in search of work, directing his focus mainly at council tenants who occupy local authority property, claim benefits, and generally don’t do a lot – it’s reminiscent of former Tory minister Norman (now Lord) Tebbit and his famous ‘my old man got on his bike’ speech.

Tebbit is often misquoted, he actually said: “I grew up in the ’30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking ’til he found it.” He was responding to a statement that unemployment naturally leads to riots.

Iain Duncan-Smith is the protégé of Lord Tebbit and that’s easy to see with these new plans about migration. When Tebbit left the Commons for the Lords, Duncan-Smith replacing him as MP, he is alleged to have said: “If you think I’m right-wing, you should meet this guy.”

But there is an issue of structural unemployment in the UK. Jobs are out there, but often the long-term unemployed are not living in locations where suitable jobs are available. What are the thousands of skilled workers  at the former Corus steel plant in Teesside going to do now – work in McDonald’s or deliver newspapers? Hardly fulfilling, rewarding, or exploiting the skills available.

There is already a system that allows people to swap their council home with tenants in another location, though why people in an area full of work might want to move someplace where there is none is beyond me. The unsettling thing about what the government is now proposing is that they want the power to force people to move in search of work.

That’s not like the romantic dream of the American migrant worker. It’s compulsion. And though I am all for the government trying to help people into work, I don’t think that charging up behind vulnerable people with a big stick is a very strategic appeoach.

Everyone wants to get rid of dole scroungers and the long-term sick claiming incapacity benefit and spending it in the pub – that’s a given – but this problem needs more thought than clunking Conservative proposals to force council tenants out of their home. What about their family and support networks? How will a single parent arrange child care in a new city, because they will need it if they are heading out to work fulltime?

I think the more intelligent response to this issue of work distribution would be to approach it with short, medium, and long-term proposals. In the short term, make it attractive for companies to create jobs away from the Southeast – offer tax incentives and grants to make it really worthwhile. Then for the longer term, the only thing that can make the people more mobile and more likely to find work in future is their education and skills. Give them training and let them find new work, don’t kick them out of home because it makes for a good headline on cutting costs.

Wasn’t there that story in the Bible about teaching a man to fish…?

Labour struggling

What is Clegg doing? The answer is Mandelson!

This is the Mick Jagger election. None of the parties are getting any satisfaction.

Yet, even though he failed to win as many seats as expected, Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems are now the kingmakers.

He promised to talk first to whoever had the most seats – the Tories – but why would he really take that idea seriously now? The Tory MPs will not want to work closely with the Lib Dems and the Lib Dems I have been reading online are all horrified that there may now be a partnership with Cameron.

It’s a recipe for disaster and Clegg must surely realise this.

Perhaps it is why he is now playing hardball with his demands. As he entered talks with party officials today, Nick Clegg made a statement saying he has four big priorities: 1. Fair tax reform 2. Education 3. Approach to the economy 4. Political reform to the electoral system

I think he might be able to reach agreement with the Tories on points 1 and 2 as their manifesto pledges are not miles apart there, but Clegg has very open views on how to run the economy and it is through transparency and devolving power from the treasury. Plus he wants a root and branch reform of the electoral system, to introduce a system of proportional representation – consigning the first-past-the-post system to history.

The Prime Minister is extremely weak right now. Clegg could do a deal with Labour that gives him control over all four issues and become a reform parliament. Labour and the Liberal Democrats could join together to lead as a minority government, or they could bring the nationalists into the fold – who would almost certainly join a coalition if money was thrown to their regions.

If Clegg could boot out Brown and announce a reform government with an interim Prime Minister (Mandelson or Johnson?) and Vince Cable running the economy then I think a lot of Labour and Lib Dems would be happier than getting into bed with the Tories. And if the focus is on electoral and economic reform then they could pledge to call a new general election as soon as the electoral system is ready for change – let’s say after one year.

One year down the line, with a PR voting system, the Liberal Democrats would stand a very high chance of getting real power – with a lot more seats.

Clegg could get a lot more of his own MPs into parliament, totally reform the electoral system, get his man running the economy, and keep British politics generally focused on liberal values by kicking the Conservatives out for a generation.

So why is he still talking to Cameron?

Leader Debates, round two

So it’s time for the second leader debate tomorrow. This one should focus on international affairs, so it’s likely Gordon Brown will be on the defensive when talking about Afghanistan, Iraq, and the “special” relationship with the USA.

But Brown should have been on the back-foot in the first debate on domestic policy, yet Clegg’s style and Brown’s substance somehow combined to force Cameron into a box. The Conservative leader was most popular when talking on the ‘British jobs for British workers’ immigration debate and that causes an issue for the Tories. They have consistently tried playing to the middle-ground in an effort to win back the Conservative voters who deserted the party for the New Labour project, but if he feels support is coming from sounding tougher, harder right, and less empathetic, then what can he do?

Those views will resonate with old-school Tories, and probably the party membership. But he won’t win the election by sounding like Michael Howard used to. Especially when Cleggmania means the Lib Dems are now on a charm offensive with Vince Cable already the most trusted politician in the UK.

Clearly, with the present first-past-the-post voting system, there is no chance of a Lib Dem majority, but a surge in support for Clegg means we are aiming for another Labour government (if Lib Dem support is mainly poached from Tory areas) or a hung parliament in which a Lab-Lib coalition will carve up power between them.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Lord Neil Kinnock
Whatever your politics, this has to be the most closely-fought and exciting British political battle in a generation. And it’s all over the TV and Internet in a way that was not imaginable at even the most recent general election. I’ll be blogging the debate live for Reuters, so lookout on their politics page for my comments as the leaders speak…

Tesco Bank. Your time has come…

The government is now throwing more money at the UK banking system.

As a nation, we really had no choice, but to bail out the banks. Hank Paulson allowed Lehman Brothers to collapse in the US thinking that the market would correct itself if a weak bank is allowed to fail. Instead, he tipped the whole banking system into further decline.

The government is seeking more competition in UK retail banking. They want to offload the public sector ownership of the banks they saved back to new market entrants. And it’s essential this happens. Listen to the press and the public on the radio phone-ins.

Nobody trusts the existing banks anymore. They are viewed as corrupt and with leaders like Fred Goodwin sailing into the sunset with millions in pension money, who can blame them?

We can go one of two ways.

State-owned banking is one choice. The government has already made it clear that they don’t like this option and they want to offload their present assets to the private sector – and this would happen even faster if (when) the Tory government is elected next spring.

So, our only really option is the new market entrants coming in and cleaning up the banks – like James Stewart in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’… walk this way Bank of Tesco.