Did the Chancellor live up to his moniker (Spreadsheet Phil, Box Office Phil, PH1 to name a few) when he delivered his Budget today? He certainly managed a few gags and digs along the way – Mrs May seems rather good humoured about his mention of cough sweets – and unlike many other politicians he managed to squeeze in a few ad-libbed digs at the Opposition all in the space of an hour.
But now that the statement is over and economists, commentators and anyone else who had a spare hour to listen to the Budget have had a chance to pour over the 86 pages of the Treasury’s red book, the question still remains – did Mr Hammond do enough, beyond the occasional traces of good humour, to hang on to his job, stave off the fights coming the way of the Government and inspire those who have abandoned the Conservative Party to once again believe that they are the party of strong economic stewardship?
There was actually very little detail in the big announcements that had not already been heavily trailed in the media, but what became very clear was the Hammond was not setting out to be bold – and perhaps go where no Conservative Chancellor has gone for some years. Instead he has fended off future rebellions (more money put aside for a no deal Brexit scenario, extra money for nurses and changes to Universal Credit) and whilst he has the money, tried to woo back younger voters that have abandoned the Conservative Party recently.
This is the big take away from the budget. Many people could see some changes in Universal Credit around the corner as the negative press was becoming difficult to escape. But the very obviously targeted policies towards those under a certain age mark a departure from previous budgets where they appear to have been put on the backburner in favour of those who have reached, or who are close to retirement. There will be harder economic times ahead so with the little cash he had to splash around, Mr Hammond went for the younger generation who have been so taken with Jeremy Corbyn’s policies.
So where does that leave the JAMs that the Prime Minister has referenced on so many occasions? Where they were this morning in all reality. Small changes to income tax brackets and freezes to fuel duty will help, but not in any fashion that will make a discernible difference to their lives and living standards. Does this indicate a strengthening of the Chancellor’s hand in his fight against Number 10? Doubtful, more a response to the realities of our economy.
The fact of the matter is there was nothing in the Budget to inspire Britain, and quite a bit to worry us, if the OBR’s forecasts prove to be accurate. However, it is likely to keep Spreadsheet Phil in Number 11 for the foreseeable future, so from his perspective it is job done. Let’s see where we are in another 12 months’ time and then we will really know if the Budget was good for Phil.