It was rightly billed as a make-or-break Budget for Hammond, with predictions that a bad one would allow Theresa May to do what she would have done if she had won a big majority in June and move him from the Treasury. He made the little money allowed by his own fiscal targets seem to go a relatively long way.
Politics is an expectations game and Hammond may have played it well. Similarly, the target of , new homes a year is not due to be achieved until the mids. Such goals have been set by successive governments and missed. Without much more action and money than Hammond provided, this target will be missed too.
However, there was a big gap where he should have said something about public sector pay. Beyond promising to fund wage rises for nurses if they are backed by a review of recruitment and retention, he made no commitment to pick up the bill for pay rises when the 1 per cent cap is lifted next April. This means that many services will have to fund wage increases through yet more cuts.
The age of austerity is far from over, as some Tory MPs hoped to see. But cuts already in pipeline, such as the four-year freeze on working age benefits, wage stagnation and an economy slowing under the dark cloud of Brexit, will leave many families still struggling to make ends meet. It sounded a bit odd, since he was hardly going to bring in retrospective measures to rewrite the past. There was real tension between them in the run-up to this Budget.
May wanted Hammond to think big, notably on housing after making the crisis her personal mission. He was keener on planning reforms than a hike in borrowing, but his proposal to relax green belt controls was vetoed by the Prime Minister. Unusually, Treasury officials know they could see a change of guard soon after a Budget.
May would probably like to relaunch her Government in the new year with a major reshuffle. Allies of Hammond warn that ousting him would not be without risk for May. There would also be a risk that a sacked Hammond would be a dangerous animal on the backbenches — even if he is seen as a lone wolf with no band of followers.
Austerity and Degrowth – Dealing with the Economic Crisis and the Ecological Crisis Together
May will be well aware how Sir Geoffrey Howe, another ousted Chancellor, got his revenge on Margaret Thatcher by provoking her downfall in So by winning Tory cheers today, Hammond has given May a dilemma by displaying more political nous than his Tory critics believed he had.
It will be yet another difficult decision for the Prime Minister. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists?
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The aim of the game was to get the Brexiteers off his back — and he may have succeeded. You can form your own view. And it still is. Tell us what you think.
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