Some of us are still waiting for an apology - for Gordon Brown's raid on pensions

Although I'm all in favour of today's government apology to Thalidomide survivors, I'm resigned to the fact that there will never an apology for Gordon Brown's raid on pension funds soon after he became Chancellor of the Exchequer.

If you've only recently discovered this blog, here's what I posted in April last year.

I don't often 'repost' posts, but am doing so because today's story reminded me of how rarely governments ever apologise for anything - and because I feel strongly enough about it to be hoping that I won't be the only one who remembers it on polling day.

16 APRIL 2009

Time for Gordon Brown to say "sorry" to savers

After today's belated “sorry" for emailgate, Gordon Brown went on to say that he had been “horrified, shocked and very angry indeed” about it – words that exactly sum up how I’ve been feeling about his onslaught on savers ever since he became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997.

This blog normally concentrates on, and with occasional exceptions like today, will continue to concentrate on making observations about speaking and communication, rather than expressing political opinions. But I’ve been “horrified, shocked and very angry indeed” about Mr Brown’s attack on savers for twelve years for the very simple reason that it occurred at a time when I was devising a strategy for my own savings and retirement.

Having decided some years before 1997 that I wanted to avoid having to sink my life’s savings into an iniquitous annuity that would allow some life insurance company to pay a pitiful rate of interest – and then pocket the lot if I happened to die the next day – I had already started to invest as heavily as I could in PEPs, on the grounds that it seemed preferable to pay the tax first and enjoy tax-free benefits later than to get tax relief on today’s pension contributions in exchange for the dubious benefits of an annuity tomorrow (not to mention to have the freedom to bequeath anything I hadn’t spent to people more dear to me than an insurance company).

Then, and people seem to have forgotten this, one of Brown’s first plans when he became Chancellor was to introduce retrospective legislation that would eliminate the tax advantages that had induced millions of us to invest in PEPs. I remember writing to him (and every other relevant politician I could think of) pointing out how unfair this was, and urging that there should be no change in the terms of reference that had made people like me opt for this particular form of savings in the first place.

Thankfully, Brown dropped that plan, but didn’t drop the even more cunning plan of abolishing one of the main incentives to put savings into pension policies, namely the tax relief on dividends earned within a pension fund that used to make them build up more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.

The first ten years of this infamous raid on pension funds bagged in excess of £100 billion from millions of thrifty savers who had been na├»ve enough to think it might be a good idea save for their retirement.

Even without the post-credit crunch shrinkage of interest now payable on annuities, Brown’s raid had already guaranteed us a much lower pension than we’d been led to believe we’d get when we first signed up for it. It also fired the starting gun for more and more companies to close down their final salary pension schemes.

Two other things about Mr Brown’s position on savings and pensions also leave me “horrified, shocked and very angry indeed.”

One is that he suddenly and belatedly started to sound surprised and worried that the country is now facing a major pensions crisis.

The other is that, whenever interviewers dare to raise the subject with him, he never admits that he had anything to do with it, and becomes even more evasive than the 'default' extreme evasiveness he typically displays in response to any question anyone ever puts to him.

Saying “sorry” for emailgate may or may not work as an effective piece of damage limitation in the aftermath of the recent misconduct of his inner circle.

But the “sorry” millions of us are still waiting for is for the damage he, and not his henchmen, did to our savings.

Unfortunately for us, it’s far too late to limit the damage he’s already done.

Unfortunately for him, none of us will have forgotten about it when we go into the ballot box.


cbwoolley said...

I am sure you and I are not alone in feeling exactly like this, but given your study of management behaviours and the political arena, can you suggest a reason why Cameron and other Conservatives have not picked this up and hammered Brown with it every day? For that matter, they could choose 10 other issues the same. So why the silence? Is it presentational?

Max Atkinson said...

cbwoolley: The reason presumably is that it would cost far too much to do anything about it- and massively more than the paltry £20m (over 3 years) being given to Thalidomide survivors.

The most obnoxious (and some would say dishonest) thing about the raft of stealth taxes pioneered by Brown - whilst boasting about how clever he was not to raise income tax - is that people don't realise they're paying them, let alone how much they're having to fork out every time they have to insure their house or car, book a flight, etc., etc.

Stealth taxes are, in other words, utterly lacking in transparency, unlike income tax, which is no doubt why Brown was so keen on them. Apart from the immediate gains to the exchequer, they came with the added bonus of making it difficult for a subsequent government to abolish them - as that would mean raising income tax, cutting public services, or some combination of the two.

So, if the Tories were to highlight them, they would have to commit much more strongly to increasing tax and/or cutting public expenditure, which are no doubt considered electorally too risky by their spin doctors.

But who's to say they're right?

Paddy Ashdown went into the 1992 general election on a platform of raising income tax by 1% to pay for more investment in education. Some of us argued strongly against it on the grounds that it would lose votes. But the polls showed that it was the most popular policy proposal on offer from the LibDems that year - probably because it was (a) honest and (b) transparent.

John said...

Brown should say sorry for his whole time in government. What upsets me about this media treatment of Brown is that no one is focusing on just how bad he was as a Chancellor. In his Mansion House speech of 2007 he said:

"So I congratulate you Lord Mayor and the City of London on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London."

"And I believe it will be said of this age, the first decades of the 21st century, that out of the greatest restructuring of the global economy, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution, a new world order was created."

He said this just as the sub-prime crisis was breaking! This is the worst incompetence in British history but the press portrays him as financial "saviour of the world!". (See Could the credit crunch have been foreseen?);