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Osborne Hits Populist Note at Party Conference

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In a speech addressing the Conservative Party Conference today, Chancellor George Osborne focused on outlining a number of steps to deal with the country's debt and stimulate growth; the two key messages that he and the Prime Minister have been emphasising during this Conference. But the announcement that will excite a wider proportion of people was the commitment to freeze council tax for a second consecutive year.

This was a clever announcement at the right time. For one it showed the Party was prepared to follow through on its Manifesto commitments, which now seem a distant memory in light of Coalition jockeying and the necessary compromises made since the Government was formed. Millions of people are genuinely worried about their finances, including their employment prospects, levels of debt and household expenses. The signal that the Conservatives understand and care about this could go some way in establishing credibility with a large percentage of the population that otherwise believes politicians are not doing anything to help them personally.

According to Osborne, the Government has found £805 million to cover the freeze, while the average family will save up to £72 this year, on top of the savings from last year. It's hard to say whether people feel that £72 is significant, and maybe most won't pay attention to the figure. The message remains that the Tories are helping people get a handle on their financial situation. That is major.

Osborne's announcement came on the heels of another Tory policy that will have populist appeal: the promise to restore weekly bin collections. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, announced the move on Friday; the fulfillment of another manifesto commitment.

It's true that these announcements don't get to the heart of the county's significant economic problems, and to policy wonks and journalists, perhaps they seem marginal. But it would be foolish to dismiss their political value.

Ordinary people need to believe that a party understands their day-to-day struggles, and also see evidence that when a party promises something, it really will deliver. On both scores, these policies fit the bill. When millions of people open their council tax statements this year, they will have the relief of knowing there is no nasty shock awaiting them. And they will know it's the Tories they have to thank.

Meanwhile, rubbish bins may pale in importance to, say the country's deficit reduction plan, but every family has been through the seemingly constant irritations of overflowing bins as they jostle over just who has to spend their Saturday morning in traffic going to the dump to get rid of rubbish that should have been collected given the high rates of local tax paid.

Anything the Tories can to do demonstrate they understand the difficulties of the average person, and indeed can make life better for them will be a vote winner in the end. It may not be what the ivory tower thinks is important, but in a democracy, the policies that can tangibly improve the lives of hard-working ordinary citizens will win the trust and the votes in the end.

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