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Cameron’s attack dog or puppy-dog?

Cameron’s ‘attack dog’ Chris Grayling – as he is fondly known by his rivals – barely even bared his teeth at this year’s Conservative conference in Birmingham.

Money Marketing has been pushing the Tories to step up to the plate on personal accounts and start addressing some of the flaws in the Labour Government’s pension reforms. But the mood of consensus in the conference hall must have been catching.

Just as Cameron told his party that now was the time to put aside political differences and promised to work with the Government to help bring about financial stability, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Chris Grayling was also in non-combative mood.

Grayling raised concerns that the Government would “bury its head in the sand” over the conflict between means-testing and personal accounts, but that was as far as he could be provoked.

When pushed on when the Conservatives would lay down their own favoured solution to the means-testing problem, Grayling persisted with the wait-and-see argument. Not exactly the hungry-for-power and change attitude that you might hope for from a party that is far ahead in the polls.

He shares the Government’s view that auto-enrollment is “sacrosanct”, but if you are signing savers up for something that could leave significant numbers out of pocket, then perhaps the principle should not be beyond criticism.

The trouble with this mood of consensus is that it makes it far too easy for the Opposition to hide behind the Government policy without challenging the pitfalls or offering up any alternatives.

But consumers are not fooled it seems. They are not buying the party line – or any of the parties’ lines on pensions. Defaqto research shows 67 per cent of consumers do not trust any political party to sort out the pension crisis.

The figure is a 10 per cent increase on last year’s survey, with Labour seeing the biggest drop in confidence from 25 per cent in 2007 to 14 per cent this year.

Perhaps it is most telling that none of the other parties gained from the drop of confidence in Labour’s pensions policy as it shows nobody else is prepared to put their heads above the parapet and put forward any policy of their own.

Defaqto’s principal consultant on pensions and investments Matthew Ward says: “These results indicate that more people are becoming less confident that the very real problem of people not saving enough for their future will be addressed successfully by any of the political parties.”

So maybe it is time Cameron’s attack dog lived up to his name and stopped being such a puppy on personal accounts.

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