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Tories bring out the sweeteners

The Conservatives have begun to play their hand, possibly a little earlier than originally planned, in Blackpool this week with a series of concrete policy statements to the electorate.

With worries over terrible poll ratings and growing election speculation threatening to overshadow the unusually mild seaside setting, team Cameron threw off its flaky non-committal attitude of recent times and offered up a number of eye-catching personal finance initiatives.

Cameron confirmed the Party will scrap stamp duty for first time buyers on properties up to £250,000 but the big move saw Shadow Chancellor George Osborne committing to raising the IHT threshold to £1m.

The Tories will pay for these two commitments with a £25,000 annual levy on anyone registering for non-domiciled status- another move likely to be popular with the electorate.

The IHT move was greeted by the biggest cheers of the morning as Osborne described the twin policies as “the most important reform of capital taxes for a generation”.

The moves create a clear dividing line between the Conservatives and the Government on two fundamental financial services issues.

The Tories say the stamp duty move would mean nine out of ten first-time buyers not paying the tax which has averaged £1,675 in 2007 and is based on a similar scheme that currently exists in Australia.

The Conservatives also went on the attack over housing policy with Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps suggesting the Government will never meet its grand house building targets and reinforcing the Party’s commitment to scrap Hips.

It is noticeable that John Redwood, who led the Party’s Economic Competitiveness Group, has a high profile at this year’s conference and the Party is likely to take on more of the group’s industry friendly suggestions in the lead up to any election.

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Philip Hammond went to great lengths to congratulate Redwood on his report and highlighted to the conference floor the group’s proposals for a lifetime savings account and an end to forced annuitisation.

The Conference fringe is particularly packed with financial services related events this year which is pretty lucky as it allows me to escape the boarding house-style accommodation I am otherwise holed up in.

The walls of my interesting little Blackpool B&B, situated just yards from the famous ‘funny girls’ nightclub, are littered with warning signs about the punishments in store for crimes including hoarding alcohol in your room, missing the breakfast time slot of 8.45am to 9am without prior warning or, wait for it, soiling the bed ‘or other parts of your room’.

As of Monday lunchtime I have yet to rack up any fines (the inspection teams have so far not located the bottle of brandy under my bed), and on the plus side it is very well located near the Winter Gardens.

Moving on, financial entertainment for the rest of the conference will focus on debates around a more flexible attitude to annuitisation and whether the Tories can really stomach the cuddly consensus that has apparently developed around personal accounts.

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