Lamont pleads to keep his job: Chancellor seeks credit for getting the economy 'back on track' amid speculation over reshuffle

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NORMAN LAMONT made a remarkable plea for his own job yesterday, urging his party and the Prime Minister to judge him on his record in getting the economy 'back on track'.

Addressing the Scottish Conservative Party conference in Edinburgh, the Chancellor said his own future was unimportant compared with the need 'to get the country back to work'. But his speech was in essence a personal appeal to stay on at the Treasury in the expected summer cabinet reshuffle - an outcome few colleagues expect.

Speculation about the Chancellor's future continued unabated despite yesterday's latest figures from the Confederation of British Industry showing that manufacturing output expanded in most of Britain's 11 regions in the past four months, and all areas expect production to increase in the next four.

However, the CBI also warned that industry was worried that the Treasury was happy to see a rising pound, which could undermine the country's export drive.

Howard Davies, the CBI director-general, said that if financial conditions needed to be tightened as recovery gained ground the Treasury should resort to a rigorous attack on public spending rather than an appreciating exchange rate.

In Edinburgh, Mr Lamont attacked the media for taking out of context his Newbury by-election quip, Je ne regrette rien, which prompted widespread charges of insensitivity, saying: 'I do have regrets'.

He regretted that inflation had been allowed to get out of control - before he became Chancellor of the Exchequer - and the hardship that had been suffered in getting it down.

'But I do not regret taking the tough, but necessary decisions, to get inflation under control,' he told a conference marked by its rare criticism of government policy.

Speaking as a man who had been 'in the firing line', taking the flak for the recession, rising unemployment, homelessness and business bankruptcies, Mr Lamont said he expected to be unpopular, and to be criticised and even misquoted. He also accepted full responsibility for everything he had done to tackle the public sector deficit.

However, he then appealed for fairness and justice, saying: 'The Government should be judged on its record, and I rather hope I shall be judged on mine.'

Repeatedly referring to his own efforts, his own actions and his own achievements, he said: 'When I became Chancellor, the recession had already begun. A year later, output had stopped falling. Another year on, recovery across a broad front had started.

'When I became Chancellor, inflation was in double figures. A year later, it was halved. Another year on, it was its lowest for 25 years.'

Mr Lamont said he had taken 'the sting' out of the poll tax - although he did not volunteer that he had increased value-added tax to pay for it - he had introduced the lower, 20p band of income tax and thrown Labour into election campaign disarray, he had abolished car tax, raised export credits and reduced business rates.

His litany of political achievement even extended to the Maastricht opt-out that had been claimed as John Major's great success.

The Chancellor said: 'At Maastricht, I insisted - against the wishes of all other 11 countries - that membership of the exchange rate mechanism should not be a legal obligation in the treaty. If I had not done so, that clause - which was in the draft treaty - would still be there today.'