If you had two similar concepts you wanted to distinguish easily between what would you do? Perhaps you would name them: guidance and advice for example. Pretty simple.
But it seems some politicians think this is too complicated for the general public to understand.
After plans for collective defined contribution schemes were confirmed in the Queen’s Speech last week, Labour leader Ed Miliband told the House of Commons his party wants to ensure people get “proper advice” to avoid the misselling scandals of the past.
Despite several attempts to get clarification from Labour of exactly what Ed meant, none has been forthcoming. But I’m pretty certain that Labour policy is not now for everyone to have a right to “proper advice”. It is far more likely to mean he wants the guidance guarantee to be effective.
The pensions revolution announced in the Budget was said to draw a neat line between a paternalistic Labour Party and the Conservatives who want to give people freedom and will trust them to enjoy it responsibly.
But apparently, the Tories don’t think people are clever enough to know the difference between advice and guidance either.
Announcing his pensions revolution in Parliament, George Osborne said everyone would get “free, impartial, face-to-face advice”. Yet in the red book published as the Chancellor sat down, that suddenly became “guidance”.
Taken to task by the Treasury select committee over the change in terms, Osborne said it was a “technical distinction” and that in his speech he was “communicating in English” so the electorate could understand what he meant.
Osborne is right, it is a technical distinction. But so is the distinction between a defined contribution scheme and a collective defined contribution scheme or the difference between restricted and independent advice.
What should be obvious to anyone with a degree from Oxford is that by using two terms which mean very different things interchangeably you make things more confusing, not less.
Assuming the guidance guarantee is up and running by April next year as planned many people’s first question could be whether it is actually advice.
Surely it would have been easier just to make this clear from the start.
Steve Tolley is politics reporter at Money Marketing