The exposure of the Treasury advice to Gordon Brown about pensions betrays the same contempt for the little people – the “losers” – as was shown to the Railtrack “Grannies”.
“Losers would be much easier to handle, because there would be time for them to adjust”
This line leapt out at me when I ploughed through the documents disclosed by the Treasury. The bulk of the document concerns the effect on businesses of the loss of pension tax credits…
“…employers might have to fork out another £3 billion in contributions in 1998/9, rising to £5 billion in 2000/1 …..some of this may feed through into prices or lower pay increases…”.
…in much the style you would expect from a civil servant whose income and pension is cushioned against the adverse implications of his advice.
It is his attitude to the human victims of his proposal which turns the stomach. Other documents analyse – on a basis which now proves extremely optimistic both as to the number of people affected and as to the sums they will lose – how many people will suffer a reduction in their pension income. These, in the author’s terminology, are “the losers” and one can just picture the contempt with which he thus describes people who were not lucky enough, or clever enough, to have generous and protected state-funded pensions.
The “losers” sentence follows a summary of the alternatives to the sudden removal of the tax credit, including a phased withdrawal. One of the side-benefits is that “losers would be much easier to handle, because there would be time for them to adjust”.
Adjust what exactly? These are people whose whole working life has been predicated on assumptions as to their pension income. Most people in company or private schemes – unlike civil servants – bear the risk anyway that the market may adversely affect their pensions. They were entitled to assume that the Government would not deliberately attack them – certainly not a Government which is allegedly committed to improving retirement income.
The only thing they can adjust is their expectations, and that is presumably what the civil servant meant.
One can see why the Treasury fought so hard and so long to prevent the publication of these documents. We know anyway that Gordon Brown is an unpleasant man, a dishonest man, and a man who does not care who suffers in the cause of raising money. We now know Treasury civil servants are not merely complicit in this, but actively participate in the idea that “losers” can just be trampled on.
We have seen this before from senior Treasury advisers. In 2001, Shriti Vadera recommended the deliberate triggering of Railtrack’s insolvency as a way to renationalise it without having to compensate shareholders – this was part of the series of events which Stephen Byers lied about with such practiced enthusiasm. Many of the shareholders were not institutions but private individuals – not big investors but ordinary people who had been encouraged to take shares in Railtrack precisely because it was – or appeared to be – backed by the Government.
Vadera referred to these investors as “Grannies” who would “lose their blouses”, showing exactly the same contempt for ordinary people as the anonymous author of the line abut “losers”.
Whilst it was Byers who told the lies and took the flack in the Railtrack story, it was Gordon Brown was behind it. The then Opposition Transport Secretary, Ian Duncan said “The man who pulled the puppet strings from day to day and minute to minute was the Chancellor, Gordon Brown. The wickedness of the plan, the deceit and maltreatment of Parliament, the contempt for the decencies of this country’s political life – all can be laid firmly at the feet of Gordon Brown.”
The deceit in the pensions lay not in the act itself – that was in the Budget – nor in the consequences, which were widely predicted. The deceit lay in the concealment of the fact that Gordon Brown was made fully aware of those predictions and in the Government’s desperate, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to conceal that.
Blair’s ministers are dishonest – so what, you might think. Dogs scratch fleas, rats spread disease, Gordon Brown tells lies. We know that. It is a part of the decline of standards and probity which we now barely notice. The important part, to me, is the contempt for the little people which the pensions story, like that of Railtrack before it, is exposed by the publication of the Treasury advice.