Only the end of the beginning

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GEORGE Osborne’s confidence can be attributed to one very simple fact: Britain’s recovery is now entrenched and the performance of the economy is finally outstripping expectations. In this regard, it would be churlish not to overlook the Chancellor’s shrewd stewardship of the public finances and his steadfastness which continues to contrast with Labour’s profligacy.

Without the Tories and the Lib Dems presenting a united front on deficit reduction, Mr Osborne would not have been in a position to announce major reforms for savers – or a benefits cap. It has taken four years to reach this point. Yet, while this speech for “makers, doers and savers” was deliberately framed with the next election in mind, its central philosophy – no pain, no gain – can be traced back to Mr Osborne’s first Budget in 2010 when the sheer size of the coalition’s challenge became clear.

Back then, the Chancellor set out a “march of the makers” Budget which he pledged would deal “decisively with our country’s record debts. It pays for the past, and it plans for the future. It supports a strong, enterprise-led recovery, it rewards work and it protects the most vulnerable... yes, it is tough, but it is also fair”.

Wise words then, they are equally valid today after the top Tory delivered a disciplined speech, valedictory in part, which resisted overtures for more sweeping tax cuts because Mr Osborne hopes his responsible approach will pay electoral dividends over an irresponsible Labour Party still in denial about its past mistakes.

This was borne out by two of Mr Osborne’s more eye-watering statements. First, Britain will only return later this year to the level of prosperity enjoyed prior to the financial crash. Second, higher-than-anticipated growth will not wipe out the country’s debts, hence his signalling of the need for even greater efficiencies if the public finances are to return to the black by 2018.

Both underline the scale of the task still facing the country, despite Britain now boasting a higher rate of employment than the United States for the first time in 30 years. In many respects, one of Winston Churchill’s more memorable quotations is pertinent: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

For, while it is easy to criticise the Government for not paying sufficient attention to the economic challenges facing Yorkshire and those regions starved of infrastructure investment for too long, the simple fact of the matter is that the Treasury could not previously afford the tax changes outlined yesterday.

First the “makers”. As the Chancellor has said on countless occasions, Britain needs to export more and this Budget offers opportunities for Yorkshire manufacturers which must be embraced.

Next the “doers”. The decision to increase the £10,000 tax threshold – and also permit a marginal rise to the amount that can be earned before the 40p rate kicks in – is a clear endorsement of the coalition’s attempt to make work pay. These are the “doers” who have paid a heavy price because of the cost of living rise.

Finally the “savers”. Mr Osborne has admitted he would like to have done more to help savers – but has been constrained by the Bank of England’s need to keep interest rates at a record low. That said, the ambition behind his reforms to pensions, and launch of flexible ISAs, is commendable.

It remains to be seen, however, if this three-pronged plan does translate into votes next year – the Tories still have an image problem in the North. But Mr Osborne has certainly given the party far more credibility than it enjoyed four years ago and, on this performance, the Chancellor’s stock is likely to continue rising.

A fine Marine and even finer man

IF ever a war veteran deserved to be to laid to rest with full military honours it is Albert Joyner, who has passed away at the venerable age of 102.

Britain’s oldest surviving Royal Marine after becoming a Commando in 1930 and serving with honour on the Arctic Convoys during the Second World War, he then devoted his latter years to raising very impressive sums of money for the Royal British Legion in order to assist the charity’s enduring work.

A familiar face on the streets of Keighley, Mr Joyner earned the distinction of becoming the country’s oldest poppy seller – testament to a fine Marine, and even finer man, who was proud to serve Queen and country for his entire life.

Born two years before the First World War, Mr Joyner’s family – including his three great-great grandchildren – can draw comfort from the warmth of the many tributes that continue to be paid not only to this fine military man, but the example he set.