Election forecasts

The result of the forthcoming General Election is not in much doubt it would seem. Eight different polling organisations’ latest polls are shown above, and the similarities between them are so much more striking than the differences. It appears that we will be going through the motions of a process which is to a large extent predetermined on 7 May. The election result is not where the uncertainty lies.

However, the day afterwards, when the general public no longer has any say in what happens, is still deeply uncertain. Although the parties have all let us have their manifestos, details about how they would behave in the event of a distribution of seats which seems to be largely already decided in most cases (presumably because the parties think we might vote differently if we knew) are very sketchy. Does this meet the definition of democracy, ie a system of government by the whole population? The Electoral Reform Society would say not. I would argue it does.

If the election result is largely as expected what would it tell us about the views of the electorate? I think it would tell us:

  • They don’t want austerity on the scale of 2010-12 again (which is one reason why the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together don’t appear likely to get a majority);
  • They are not as obsessed with immigration policy as the two main parties think they are (which is why they seem prepared to vote for a range of different approaches to managing immigration with no approach commanding majority support);
  • They don’t want a referendum on whether to stay in the EU (which is why the Conservatives and UKIP together will not be able to get a majority); and
  • They don’t support the current student fees system and don’t believe it is indistinguishable from a graduate tax (which is another reason why the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives together seem unlikely to get a majority).

There are probably several other attitudes amongst the electorate that can equally well be divined in the negative in a similar way (the BBC summaries of the parties’ positions on a range of issues can be found here), but the point is that a finely balanced pattern of parties of the type we look likely to end up with does not represent an inability to make a decision. It does however represent a determination not to allow any single party to make decisions. That seems to meet a reasonable definition of democracy to me.

Go on pick a card

Defined ambition has failed.

  • This was mainly because, tasked with suggesting a less onerous alternative to defined benefit (DB) schemes that gave more protection than defined contribution (DC) schemes, the pensions industry (including actuaries) did not get behind the least bad option, but instead presented a spectrum of options
  • The public and employers were unimpressed
  • And employers had enough on their plate anyway dealing with auto-enrolment
  • So they have now all (or nearly all) enrolled their employees into DC
  • And the reason they are in DC now is the same reason they were in DB before: because they were offered so many choices they lost sight of the fact that there was a choice.

DA options

The time to significantly influence corporate pension provision would appear to have passed until people realise how hard it is to make sufficient provision via a DC scheme. That may not be until the money actually runs out as the finance industry has a proven track record in keeping people in schemes (eg the early personal pensions and later endowment mortgages) long after they retain the capacity to do them any good.

In the meantime, people with DC pensions and madly transferring DB members now have freedom and choice. I predict that this too will fail.

  • This will mainly be because, tasked with providing cost-effective advice to people to empower them to make good decisions about their financial future, the pensions industry do not get their act together and just present a spectrum of options
  • The public will be unimpressed
  • And employers, who might have been persuaded to increase employee education and engagement in pensions, will have enough on their plate anyway dealing with auto-enrolment
  • So now most of them will be managing their own retirement with not enough money, vulnerable to pensions scammers and paying far more tax than they need to
  • And the reason they will not be in an annuity now is the same reason they were in one before: because they were offered so many choices (see the Pension Wise website, inexplicably still in an unfinished Beta state) they lost sight of the fact there was a choice.


The time to significantly influence individual pension provision appears to be rapidly running out.

How does this story end, I wonder?