i Editor's Letter: There's a crackle in the Brum air


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The Independent Online

A letter from Birmingham. I’m sitting in a press room scattered with the detritus of caffeinated hacks who’ve been hard at it for a month now: Scotland’s referendum, Labour conference, war, Tory conference... Pity the Lib Dems who will meet a very tired, grumpy bunch of reporters in Glasgow next week.

The ring of steel around this summit reaches the Gas Street Basin, “the heart of Britain’s canal network”, where Birmingham’s industrial heritage meets the city’s new bars. These watering holes buzz with the hunt for power - not another Coalition but real, undiluted power. The Conservatives know the polls are against them but there’s a crackle in the air that was absent from last week’s Labour conference in Manchester.

There are more i readers in the Midlands than in Greater London, and I enjoyed meeting some of you at last night’s first i Conservative conference fringe. Much of the talk was of where the Tory Party can find the extra supporters it needs.

Working-class voters are critical to Conservative prospects - but George Osborne has unwelcome news for some of them. If the Tories win he’ll freeze tax credits, child benefit and jobseeker’s (but not maternity, pensions or disability benefit). He says it’s wrong that benefits (up 22.4 per cent since 2007) should be rising more than the wages of people who pay for them (up 14 per cent).

This will please critics of the welfare state. But it’s going to sting for low-wage workers. An estimated 10 million households will be hit, half of them with someone in work.

The message that you (and the markets) are going to hear from now until May will be this: the Tories have the economic credibility to deal with Britain’s deficit. Mr Osborne has gambled that he can destroy Labour on the economy. Genius, or misplaced confidence? Watch this space.


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