Will Spreadsheet Phil do enough to keep his job? That was the question everyone was asking ahead of today’s eagerly-awaited and politically crucial Autumn Budget.
The Pagefield Team give their thoughts on the contents of today’s Budget and in addition have produced a handbook highlighting key announcements and analyses, which you can read here in Pagefield’s Budget 2017 Review.
Philip Hammond today faced perhaps the most difficult Budget of any Chancellor in recent times. A minority government, Brexit, fundamental splits in the Conservative party and deteriorating relations between No 10 and No 11 Downing Street all led many to believe that Hammond was simply going through the motions, set up to fail by many within his own party.
It was a crucial Budget for Theresa May too. A challenging election result and difficult party conference performance last month, as well as perceived weakness following recent Cabinet resignations (and non-resignations), meant today’s Budget was an opportunity to reinvigorate the Government, outlining a strong economic vision for the UK post-Brexit and parking some tanks on Labour’s young-voting lawn.
Despite concerns about debt, deficit and tax, the political priority today was about two things: offering young people a reason to vote Tory and – to put it bluntly – not messing up. Millennials favoured Labour (or more accurately Jeremy Corbyn) at the last election and today was an opportunity to win them over. With a recent YouGov poll showing that just 15% of under-30s would support the Conservatives at the next election, May and Hammond need to move fast.
Hammond performed well against these priorities. He delivered what many have been quick to label his ‘Banter Budget’ with ease and confidence, delivering a number of gags along the way. His flagship policy was a commitment to dedicate £44 billion in capital funding to support the housing market. Other measures to tackle the housing crisis included a pledge to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s and measures to prevent land-banking and tackle empty homes. Hammond’s real rabbit to save his hat was his announcement to suspend stamp duty for first time buyers on homes up to £300,000 and for the first £300,000 on properties in London. No doubt a hugely popular measure that will serve the Conservatives well as they seek to attract younger voters (and their parents) and reposition themselves firmly as the party of home ownership.
A confident and gaffe free performance today will have helped the Conservative Party start to win over prized millennial voters and the broader electorate. However, it is still Brexit, Conservative splits, and strained relations at the top of government, which will dominate the headlines whilst Theresa May and Philip Hammond reside at Numbers 10 and 11. There is always the devil in the detail of a Budget and we await the IFS’s postmortem, but while Spreadsheet Phil’s position remains precarious a good performance today means he hangs on to fight another day.
Jeremy Corbyn gave a passionate response to The Chancellors’ speech this afternoon. Labour’s key message was that the Budget was nothing more than an advertisement for just how out-of-touch this Government is with the reality of people’s day to day lives
Corbyn was keen to stress that lower pay, falling wages and slower economic growth were hampering the poorest in society whilst hammering home the number of children and pensioners in poverty.
There were some missed opportunities for the Tories, Corbyn pointed out to the Conservative front bench. These included a failure to end period poverty as well as the missing £10 million needed to establish the child funeral fund campaigned for by Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris.
Socialists are willing to share, he told the Commons, and Hammond’s supposedly reactionary offering had failed to deliver. ‘Nothing has changed’ he teased, a painful reminder of a much-maligned phrase for many of the Conservatives on the other side of the Chamber.
As Hammond sits back tonight, sipping a slightly cheaper gin and tonic, no doubt thinking it was a ‘job well done’ it will be interesting to see how the media react and cover Corbyn’s passionate response and, of course, the details of the Budget itself.
The Pagefield Team
22nd November 2017