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Conference calls

The party conference season is again upon us, giving a perfect opportunity for new thinking on policy issues in the financial services arena. Or then again, perhaps not.

This year’s events, like last year, come during another period of continued economic turbulence, with no one sure of predicting recovery or further recession. Fresh thinking arguably will be thin on the ground, although no doubt we will hear a lot of rhetoric disguised as such. The job of the conferencegoer is to sort the new policy wheat from the familiar old chaff.

In the main conference hall, the agenda will be filled with stern warnings on the economy, growth, competitiveness and tax. Chancellor George Osborne will urge us to stick with the economic plan, Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls will call for a new plan while the LibDems want to change the plan and make the wealthy pay more. The battle on tax policy will be one of the hottest debates this season.

In many respects, the party leaders have as big a challenge. Can David Cameron convince his party that he has the essentially right (of centre) instincts on growth, health reform and particularly Europe without upsetting either his party or his coalition partners? Can Nick Clegg demonstrate that his opposition to the Conservative right in Government is effective and convince his party that they have something to fight for and a leader to support? And can Ed Miliband, buoyed by a strong performance on Hackgate and in Parliament, show his party the sense of vision that has been lacking to date?

The fringe agenda is packed with familiar topics and speakers. The main themes are common across all parties – the economy, growth, savings, pension reform, fostering mutuality, sustainable business and, of course, banking reform, where the Vickers proposals will be sliced and diced.

But the conference fringe is largely silent on regulatory reform, the RDR, or even protection.

The key protagonists will be pensions minister Steve Webb, who will give us detail on pension reform, Treasury financial secretary Mark Hoban will talk about the importance of financial services for competitiveness and jobs while Labour Shadow Treasury financial secretary Chris Leslie will argue for a different approach to savings and enterprise.

You will also see some rising stars across the parties, such as Chuka Umana and Rachel Reeves for Labour and influential Treasury select committee chair Andrew Tyrie for the Conservatives, along with all the Treasury team. And returning to the fray for the LibDems will be former star David Laws.

Much will be said and much reported, although perhaps little clarity will emerge – yet. But being there is ever more important as this conference will define the politics, although perhaps not policies, of the parties to the 2015 election.

Ralph Jackson is a director at Lansons Communications

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