NO one comes out well from the Whitehall row over Lord Turner's report on the future of pensions in Britain. Gordon Brown is said to be “furious” that the report challenges the Treasury's long-term strategy for state pensions. Lord Turner is said to be “livid” that Mr Brown has criticised aspects ot the report before it has even been published. No 10 is insistently denying that it had any role in leaking to the media a copy of the Chancellor's letter to Lord Turner in which he set out his objections. Mr Brown has ordered an inquiry into how and by whom the letter was leaked.It is an extremely embarrassing incident and one that will inevitably be interpreted as it unfolds as the latest, and perhaps the last, of the confrontations between Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer that have sullied the reputation of this government. Although Lord Turner (former Director General of the CBI, banker and McKinsey consultant) may seem to be the innocent victim, this is not quite the case. He and his independent Pensions Commission were asked by the government to provide an analysis of the overall problem and suggest options for its solution; instead they appear to have broadened their terms of reference and come up with specific proposals, some of which are in opposition to Treasury policy. Mr Brown's anger is understandable; he, not Lord Turner, has to take political decisions. At the same time, however, the Chancellor seems to have reacted clumsily in making a pre–emptive strike at the Turner report. In doing so he has also raised the question of how far Cabinet government exists in Britain today. Mr Blair is frequently, and correctly, accused of ignoring the Cabinet but by his actions in this case Mr Brown has shown he has the same exclusive tendencies. After all, there is a Pensions minister sitting in the Cabinet.Perhaps the passions this matter have aroused are the result of the great importance of the pensions issue for the future. They are almost certainly also part of the attempt by some supporters of the Prime Minister to portray Gordon Brown as “anti-reform”.


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