In a Budget intended to have ‘no gimmicks, no giveaways’, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, offered pensioners with annuities the chance to cash them in and blow the lot. Borrowing in the coming year would be a fraction of a billion less than feared and the annual deficit was to be eliminated by 2019. The income tax personal allowance was raised. Business rates were to be reviewed. Duty on beer, cider and spirits came down a touch, but not on wine. A higher bank levy was predicted to raise £900 million. North Sea oil and gas producers were offered tax reductions. About 15 million people would have to update their tax returns online through the year. The minimum wage would rise in October by 20p an hour to £6.70, with less for younger workers. Voters were told that if they elected a Conservative government, death duties would be reduced. Unemployment fell to 1.86 million. A new pound coin is to be minted, 12-sided like the old threepenny bit, but without the blooming thrift that it depicted.
Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour party, rejected the idea of a coalition with the Scottish National Party, which had already said it didn’t want a coalition with Labour, but would contemplate a supply and confidence arrangement. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, agreed to a television debate with six other party representatives. Three young men from north-west London, aged 17, 17 and 19, were stopped by Turkey from travelling to Syria and sent back to Britain after their parents alerted police. Mr Cameron ordered the postponement of a report on the Muslim Brotherhood, expected to recommend that it should not be proscribed as a terrorist organisation, though it is banned by Saudi Arabia. Tony Blair was to ‘step back’ from his role as a special envoy of the Quartet seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Prince Harry said he was to leave the army after ten years’ service. Leicester cathedral prepared to receive the bones of Richard III.
HSBC set about closing accounts on Jersey belonging to customers living in the United Kingdom. Britain was joined by France, Germany and Italy in joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment bank founded by China. Three judges were sacked and a fourth resigned for watching pornography using their judicial information technology accounts. Barts Health NHS Trust, the biggest in England, was made subject to special measures after an inspection by the Care Quality Commission found its hospital at Whipps Cross in a bad way. A British Airways flight turned back half an hour into a journey to Dubai because of pungent excrement in a lavatory. An eclipse of the sun struck Britain after breakfast on 20 March.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia reappeared after a mysterious absence of 11 days. Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister of Greece, said he would visit Mr Putin on 8 April, 12 days before the deadline for Greece to reach agreement with its creditors. China overtook Germany to become the biggest arms exporter after the United States and Russia. A cyclone with winds of 185mph swept over the islands of Vanuatu, population 250,000, destroying houses, crops and communications. In Madrid, the bones of Cervantes were identified at the convent of the Discalced Trinitarians, who had ransomed him from captivity in Algiers.
The Israeli elections were won by the right-wing Likud party led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who had promised new homes for settlers in the occupied territories and no state for the Palestinians. Fighting continued for control of the city of Tikrit in Iraq. The mausoleum of Saddam Hussein was reduced to rubble. The Nigerian army said it had retaken the north-eastern town of Bama from Boko Haram, the Islamist armed movement. At least seven tourists were shot dead in Tunis. Mohammed Badie, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and 13 others were condemned to death. Two Taleban suicide bombers killed 17 during Mass at two churches in Lahore, Pakistan, after which a crowd lynched two men.
The national assembly in Venezuela voted to let President Nicolas Maduro govern by decree for the rest of the year. The Pope declared a Holy Year from 8 December, and told Mexican television: ‘I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief. Four or five years; I do not know, even two or three.’ Dennis, a dachshund from Ohio, managed to lose 44 of its 56lb acquired from eating hamburgers after being put on a diet by a new owner. CSH