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Conservative Party try to reinvent themselves as the party of the North East

> Is there a General Election on the horizon or something ? The Tories are getting all concerned about the North East…

Growing the economy in the North of England and closing the wealth divide with London and the south east was one of the major themes of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, spoke repeatedly about backing the North in his keynote speech at the  conference.

The focus may seem surprising given that the party has few MPs in the North East.

Guy Opperman in Hexham, Northumberland, and James Wharton in Stockton South are the party’s only North East representatives in the Commons, although Tories believe they have a chance of taking Liberal Democrat-held Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, at the next election.

But William Hague, the former Foreign Secretary regarded as unofficial deputy leader of the party, pointed out to journalists that there were many more Conservative MPs in the North West and in Yorkshire.

Mr Osborne, who represents a constituency in Cheshire, even told the conference: “I am also the first Chancellor for almost forty years to represent a constituency in the north of England – and I can see the risk of our capital city’s dominance.

> Yorkshire and Cheshire are quite different from the North East. That’s exactly why they do elect Tories.

“It is not healthy for our country or our economy.”

He pledged: “Let us choose today to make reducing the gap between north and south, London and the rest, one of the central ambitions of the next Conservative Government.”

And he highlighted the Government’s plan to create a “Northern Powerhouse”, saying: “The answer is to build up the rest of our country. To create a Northern Powerhouse of the cities across the Pennines.”

The Chancellor’s plan is to turn the North into an economic powerhouse rivalling London by investing up to £15 billion on local transport links, picking a scientific speciality for universities to become world-leaders in, possibly building a high speed line across the Pennines, linking the North East and North West, and giving cities more autonomy and cash – if they agree to transform local government by introducing directly-elected mayors.

Mr Hague insisted the party was on course to win in the North.

He said: “At the last general election we made a major breakthrough in the North – if you take the North as being Yorkshire, the North East and North West. We went up at the last election from 19 MPs in the North to 42. That was a huge expansion, including in the North East of course, where we gained Stockton South.

> And… and… oh, just Stockton South, then ? Along with Hexham, that’s a really huge expansion in the North East.

“I hope we can add to that – there will be seats we will be targeting in the North including the North East.”

Major announcements at the conference included plans to freeze working-age benefits – including benefits received by working people on low salaries – for two years.

This means cutting benefits in real terms, because of the effects of inflation.

Conservative leader David Cameron, in his conference speech, announced plans to raise the income tax personal allowance to £12,500. This would take one million more workers out of income tax entirely and give a tax cut to 30 million more, Mr Cameron said.

An estimated 51,000 North East workers would pay no income tax at all because of the change. Many others would pay less tax.

> Isn’t this because wages are so poor to start with ?

Mr Cameron also announced plans to raise the threshold at which people pay the 40p income tax rate from £41,900 today to £50,000.

It means a tax cut for many people earning above-average salaries. Mr Cameron said the 40p tax was supposed to be for the rich, but it’s currently paid by some senior nurses, teachers and police officers.

But critics pointed out that the Conservatives had failed to explain how they would pay the £7 billion cost of cutting tax.

Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said: “Nobody will be fooled by pie in the sky promises of tax cuts in six years’ time when David Cameron cannot tell us where the money is coming from.

“Even the Tories admit this is an unfunded commitment of over £7 billion, so how will they pay for it? Will they raise VAT on families and pensioners again?”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Oct 2014