Julian Knight: The weathercock is not up to the Chancellorship

Not everyone would want Vince Cable in No 11
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The Independent Online

Everyone loves Vince Cable, right? Well, not this journo.

Often portrayed as the economic soothsayer who predicted the banking crisis and trotted out last week as Nick Clegg's campaigning "other half" (Clegg's eminently smart wife has decided to keep working as her husband battles to raise the Lib Dem share of the vote from 19 to 20 per cent), Mr Cable has an affable public façade in the mould of Ken Clarke. But believe me, he is no cuddly Ken.

Take, for example, the Government's quantitive easing programme. Cable chided this as Robert Mugabe economics – a good throwaway line but wrong. In 2003, when the first alarms were being raised internationally about Gordon Brown's massive spending splurge, Cable was openly supportive of the Chancellor. He has separately called for retention of the Bank of England's independence while calling on it to cut rates. And in the depths of the crisis, Cable first backed the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds and then a few months later said it was a mistake. I wonder if he still has the same view. Tony Benn – not someone I regularly quote – put politicians into two categories: signposts or weathercocks. Mr Benn says he has time for signposts who stick to their principles and are consistent, but none for weathercocks who go with whatever makes them look good and court popularity. Mr Cable is definitely a weathercock, and if he were to achieve the chancellorship in a hung parliament, we'd see this writ large.

A pension attached to a country

It's been said of British Airways that it's a pension scheme with an airline attached. You could almost say the same thing about Britain, a pension scheme with a country thrown in. The reason? Gold-plated, public-sector, final-salary pensions, kept in place far too long by a craven deal between the unions and Labour and proving a long-term drain on this country's resources. We can't afford the pensions already promised, never mind those to come. The ever decreasing circle goes like this: pension promise too big due to longevity and low investment return; government borrows to pay for promise which in turn floods the market with new low-priced debt, which in turn affects the investment performance the pension schemes rely on. As a result, the recourse is the taxpayer. And in an election, the first week of which has been dominated by whether to put a penny on National Insurance (simply a tax by another name), where is the talk of what will be done about public-sector pensions? The answer is as ever with pensions: nowhere. We are more concerned with the here and now and the future can go damn itself.

Don't wait for deadlines

Another deadline for individual savings accounts has passed and the marketing departments of the big banks are again taking a breather. As deadline day approached last Monday, I had a host of emails from readers asking what were the best accounts to go for, a job made harder this year by the paltry rates on offer and the return of the introductory rate ploy. However, each year I'm always amazed that so many savers leave it to the very last minute – whatever gains they make by getting an extra quarter per cent here or there are dwarfed by the fact that they have waited so long and paid tax on their savings in the rest of the tax year.

ISA opening season should commence at the start of the new tax year, not a few days before its end. This is especially true this year as the amount of money you can shelter from tax in a cash ISA has gone up from £3,600 to £5,100. With interest rates in the wider economy unlikely to rise in the near term you can buy with confidence. Best advice: don't wait another 12 months and make use of your allowances as soon as possible.

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