Opinion: Govt comms strategy belies pensions crisis

According to the hacks in the Westminster village, the Government's pensions strategy has been a PR disaster. No wonder they are so often called 'village idiots' by those working in the real world.

The fact is that Labour managed to avoid the thorny issue of pensions for more than two years, including at the general election, by referring the whole issue to Lord Turner's Pensions Commission. That is what I would call smart politics.

Now Turner's findings have been revealed, there is bound to be some argument both within and outside the Government. But damage will only be done if wrong decisions are made. Inevitably the rows started with a leak of the report and of a letter from the Chancellor criticising some of Turner's assumptions. Even more inevitably, this was all played out as the latest episode of the great Blair-Brown soap opera.

As usual there is some substance to claims of a rift but that's mainly because there are those in Number 10 who have no future in a Brown-led government, so they give hostile briefings to the eager Westminster press.

The Treasury is never going to take this lying down and is quite prepared to hit back even harder - in this case by accusing Number 10 of leaking the Brown letter.

It all makes for great copy, but this latest little spat in Downing Street will be quickly forgotten.

Actually there is little separating Blair and Brown when it comes to pensions. The PM has been every bit as hostile to the idea of restoring the link between the state pension and earnings as Brown, and this is one bit of the Turner report that will never be implemented. The PM has also backed his Chancellor in supporting the targeting of pension payments to the poorest and is hardly likely to agree to the end of means testing now, despite what Turner says. Both men though will support the report's other ideas, especially moving the retirement age to 67.

Indeed, by the end of this week, if you asked the British public what has come out of the pensions report, it will be that we will all have to retire at 67, and that includes public sector workers. The Government will be very happy indeed if that message becomes an accepted inevitability.

The reason the Treasury have been so active in briefing is they know it's their man who will have to implement a new pensions policy. Blair will be long gone and all Number 10 is interested in is something that looks 'radical' for his legacy. Hence the inevitable tensions. These, however, will be put aside as both men turn their fire on the real enemy - opposite them on the Tory benches.

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