Today’s Spring Statement by the Chancellor comes just two weeks after the Beast from the East pushed politics from the news agenda, but would ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ keep his usual cool, or like the country would he start to thaw and show us green shoots of economic growth? The truth is that Phillip Hammond appears to have awoken from an ice age and discovered that like our Neolithic ancestors, he needs to use his political club to show that he means business.
Right from the start he came out swinging, using the positive economic news to pre-emptively bludgeon his way through Her Majesty’s Opposition. There was a falling deficit and a revised economic growth of 1.7% in 2017 compared to 1.5% in the Budget last year – not exactly a massive difference there Phil but when life gives you lemons, make gin I always say! Borrowing was forecast to be £108bn lower than in 2010 and the overall debt was shrinking (not sure that last one is true, but he was on a roll so let’s let him have it).
Setting his sights on John ‘Sabretooth’ McDonnell for his new-found aggression; the Chancellor then warned about ‘labour’s economic train wreck’ and the ‘fiscal fantasists’ who would seek to take the UK on a spending spree which would significantly increase the country’s deficit and overall debt.
After talking about the fasting portion of the UK’s economic caveman diet, the Chancellor then proceeded to throw some red meat to his new found friends on the Tory benches, with £9bn extra for the NHS and social care system; and £31 billion going to fund infrastructure, R&D and housing through the National Productivity Investment Fund.
The Chancellor promised that the UK clans would be housed under his stewardship of the economy, with an investment programme of £44bn to raise housing supply to 300,000 a year by the mid-2020s. Since the Stamp Duty announcement at the Budget last year, around 60,000 First Time Buyers had already benefited from the changes. There was also the promise of a further spending feast on Budget day later this year, if the finances continue to improve, alongside the publication of the Government’s report into planning permissions and completions.
There were no Osborne style political traps this year, but nonetheless John McDonnell looked fazed by the political attacks by the Chancellor that his Spring Statement response didn’t really gain any kind of traction. Whilst this Spring Statement won’t be remembered for its policy announcements, it is safe to say that Phillip Hammond has thrown off his frosty persona and is not afraid to dare I say it, become a political operator.
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