March 18: No scope for Budget tricks

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AS THE guardian of the nation’s purse-strings, George Osborne has become less abrasive since having the misfortune to take over the Treasury’s reins in the wake of the financial crash. He noted recently: “There’s no point pretending that there’s some magic wand a Chancellor can wave to make the whole country feel richer than it actually is.”

Yet, while Mr Osborne’s wider influence is comparable to that enjoyed by Gordon Brown under Tony Blair’s premiership, there is one significant difference: the current Chancellor knows Britain is still spending beyond its means and that the public finances must remain under tight control for the foreseeable future.

In this regard, it would be deeply irresponsible of Mr Osborne, and the Tories, if today’s Budget – the last of this Parliament – was used to fund a series of give-aways in a bid to woo voters ahead of an election which is too close to call. The national interest must continue to trump all other calculations.

Yet this should not preclude the Chancellor, a politician who has grown in stature since assuming office in 2010, from using any additional Treasury revenue streams for short-term political considerations. The welcome rise in the minimum wage is a case in point. Though some will be disappointed by its limited scope, it is also a signal that this Government is on the side of aspiration and is prepared to reward endeavour. But it is also emblematic of these times. As Mr Osborne intimated himself, he does not possess a magic wand and it would be illusional to pretend otherwise.

If, however, he uses the Budget to entrench the recovery with fiscal discipline, while finding innovative ways to accelerate growth in the once neglected North, the Chancellor will be opening up even more clear water between the Tories and Labour.

A Yorkshire legend

‘I can’t teach this lad anything’

IF ONLY today’s cricketers showed the perseverance and dexterity which became the hallmarks of Yorkshire cricketer Bob Appleyard who has passed away aged 90. That is the abiding memory of a remarkably economical and effective bowler, one of the finest ever to be capped by England, who overcame incredible odds in order to play the sport which made this proud son of Bradford.

Not only did he have to come to terms with the deaths of his close relatives who were killed in a gas attack – Appleyard’s father had been left badly scarred by the First World War and feared for his young family in another global conflict – but his own playing prospects were cut short by the Second World War and then the discovery that he had contracted tuberculosis.

Yet, even after surgeons removed part of a lung, Appleyard continued to bamboozle county and Test batsmen in the 1950s with his bewildering mix of medium-pace swing bowling or astute off-spin delivered with metronomic accuracy. He was undoubtedly blessed with hands of above-average strength which had been hardened by hammering steel sheets as an apprentice engineer.

The only person to take 200 wickets in his debut season in the County Championship, still cricket’s Holy Grail, the Bradfordian’s prowess was summised by the great Bill Bowes who noted so sagely: “I can’t teach this lad anything.”

Praise indeed and why Bob Appleyard will be remembered as one of the all-time greats of Yorkshire cricket and a tireless supporter of the gentleman’s game in his home city. Today’s players are not made like him.

Community action

How to eradicate blight of litter

LEVELS of litter and fly-tipping in Britain are a national disgrace. The situation is worse now than in 1987 when Margaret Thatcher, the then prime minister, became so exasperated with the issue that she started picking up detritus which had been discarded in London’s Hyde Park. Iconic settings in the Yorkshire Wolds immortalised by David Hockney’s artwork are among those to have been ruined by a selfish minority who disregard England’s green and pleasant lands.

Yet, as the Country Land and Business Association makes clear, this sad situation will not alter until local authorities have the resources to identify, and then prosecute, flytippers. And, sadly, this is unlikely to happen when town halls have so many conflicting financial priorities. In the meantime, it can only be hoped that public-spirited communities take responsibility and launch anti-litter initiatives of their own. If they do, the collective efforts of all will hopefully shame some culprits into becoming more respectful of others.