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New car registrations in March boost UK sales

The rise exceeds market expectations by 6 per cent.

There were 372,835 new car registrations in the UK in March – a year-on-year increase of 1.8 per cent, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). 

In most years, March is the busiest month for registrations, averaging almost a fifth of annual volume. The March plate-change, which exceeded industry expectations by 6 per cent, helped boost first-quarter volumes by 0.9 per cent. Yet registrations remain 17 per cent off the 2007 pre-recession total.

Around 1.5 million cars and commercial vehicles and three million engines are produced annually in the UK, accounting for 9 per cent of the country’s total exports. Registrations of UK-built cars increased by 12.3 per cent in March, with their market share rising to 14.6 per cent from 13.3 per cent a year ago.

Paul Everitt, chief executive of SMMT, said: “Domestic demand for new cars is showing signs of recovery, with private buyers increasingly returning to take advantage of a wide range of excellent products and, this month, the new 12-plate.” 

By model, Ford Fiesta was ranked first with 53,830 registrations in March and 82,848 registrations in first quarter of 2012; Vauxhall and Volkswagen were ranked second and third.

Registrations have risen in four of the past eight months but the underlying market trend is more about stability than growth, said a SMMT spokesperson.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.