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Ministers play a blame game

“Global” was the buzzword that Labour ministers and on-message MPs were shoehorning into every conference speech, fringe event and journalist briefing at last week’s party conference.

The strategy was clear. The current economic turmoil cannot be blamed on individual countries (apart from greedy American banks, of course) and in a global crisis, the UK needs a leader with lots of experience on the international stage.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown set the tone in his speech, discussing the difficulties of managing “global financial systems” with national regulators. Chancellor Alistair Darling spoke of the economic shock “which has hit every country in the world”.

Any references to UK financial difficulties were few and far between and always followed by the disclaimer “originating from problems in the US sub-prime market”.

Solutions laid out by Brown and Darling needed “global” co-operation with improved supervision, transparency, action to curb bonus-driven short-term risk takers and standards for credit rating agencies.

The other buzzword was “fairness”. The Chancellor refused to rule out tax hikes when grilled by the national press and Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills John Denham had a similar message at a fringe meeting entitled Tax and Equality.

He declined to answer a question from Money Marketing on whether Labour was looking at meddling with higher-rate pension relief to fund relief for lower income pensioners or to contribute to personal accounts – an idea he floated last time the Labour conference came to Manchester two years ago, when he was outside the Government.

News of an imminent Cabinet reshuffle broke on the eve of the last day of conference and left many wondering whether there could be yet more changes at the top of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Industry figures were left questioning whether Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell and pensions minister Mike O’Brien will remain to deliver personal accounts in 2012 or if the DWP’s ever revolving door will continue to spin round.

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