From the party conference: Hardworking anchor policies

As raucous trade unionists protesting against austerity cuts and NHS changes circled the secure zone, Conservative conference kicked off in Manchester yesterday with tributes to "Our Maggie" - and a packed ConservativeHome fringe session on How to Win the Next General Election.

Lord Ashcroft urged against a core seat strategy, presenting research showing that the best chances of Conservative victory lie not in obsessing about the ‘UKIP issues’ of immigration, Europe and defence but in having a broad appeal.

This week’s conference theme, ‘For Hardworking People’, looks to anchor the party, its policies and its messaging in the centre ground, with strategists seeking to arm wrestle Miliband for the cost of living agenda and emphasise fairness, helping people to get on and doing the right thing.

But then the Conservative exhibition hall is a peculiar ecosystem with stands promoting the fur trade sitting beside manicure and massage stations, Social Action Zone and the Tobacco Retail Alliance.

The Conservative party merchandise stand has been transformed into ‘Maggie’s Stall’ this year, cornering the free market in ‘Iron Baby’ bibs and baby-gros.

Today, the big ticket item is the Chancellor’s key note speech where he’ll announce a new Help to Work scheme.

Starting next April, the long-term unemployed will be required to do 30 hours’ community service a week such as cleaning up graffiti and picking up litter in exchange for their benefits.

With Osborne leading on this significant welfare policy shift, the content of Iain Duncan-Smith’s speech tomorrow might look a little light.

No wonder Andrew Mitchell, who is cutting a dash on the fringe circuit, has taken to describing the Chancellor as a ‘recovery stock’.

"Buy shares in George Osborne: he’s currently undervalued," he advises.

Sarah Richardson is a director of public affairs at Edelman.

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