Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Prime Minister giveth...

… and the Chancellor taketh away.

Sunday’s news gave a great deal of prominence to Cameron’s pledge on pensions.  It was presented as a significant commitment which will give other parties problems if they fail to match it.
It was certainly headline-grabbing, as intended.  Whether it will be as effective as the PM hopes in attracting the votes of the retired and the soon-to-be retired is another question.  As one in the latter category, I can say with certainty that it won’t affect how I vote, but it’s just possible that I’m not a typical voter.  Maybe others – or at least “enough” others – are indeed motivated, as Cameron seems to be assuming, by naked short term self-interest when it comes to voting.
They’d be well-advised to look at the small print, though.  The amount of money involved is not exactly enormous – more like two pieces of silver than twenty – and the older the voter is, the less benefit that he or she will derive from the pledge, based simply on a realistic assessment of life expectancy.  (Indeed, Chris Dillow posted an interesting piece yesterday, pointing out that, counter-intuitively, it is the young, not the old, who will actually benefit more from the policy if sustained for the long term – they’ll just have to wait a long time to see that benefit.)
I’m sure that I wasn’t alone in seeing something of a contradiction, however, between the Prime Minister’s statements that one form of welfare (looking after older people who vote and may even be persuaded to vote Tory) is an essential element of a civilised society, whilst his Chancellor denounced another form of welfare (affecting those who either don’t vote or else are highly unlikely to vote Tory) as unaffordable.  It was a bit like a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine, but with the sole objective of serving the interests of the Conservative Party.
What the juxtapositioning of the two statements revealed more than anything is that there are always choices which governments can make – something which both the PM and Chancellor have been at great pains to deny to date.  There’s nothing inevitable about any decision on spending, if the will is there.
It’s a pity though that the will seems to relate more to the need to buy, or attempt to buy, electoral support than to meeting needs.

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