Philip Hammond should be sending George Osborne a case of the finest claret. For Osborne’s decision to accept the editorship of the Evening Standard, has distracted Westminster’s from this week’s spectacular Budget reversal. But, as I say in The Sun this morning, the fallout from it will be felt for some time.
Even Hammond’s Cabinet allies admit that ‘Of course, he’s damaged’ by the whole issue. But those in May’s circle are blunter. Pointing out the mistake was ‘staring you right in the face’ before he made it and that the National Insurance hike on the self-employed ‘was pushed back several times' by Number 10. They predict that ‘his arrogance will be diminished’ by this episode and that he’ll be more inclined to listen to their advice in future. But Numbers 10 and 11 need to find a better way of working together: they can’t afford too many repeats of the last 10 days.
What Hammond requires now is a successful, competent Autumn Statement. But that won’t be easy. I understand there is massive capital investment in the NHS planned for it. This and the need to plug the black hole left by the National Insurance hike, again raises the question of how all this will be paid for within the confines of the Tory manifesto?
I understand that at their Wednesday meeting to agree the u-turn, May offered Hammond no assurances on future revenue raising measures. Revealingly, Hammond is one of the Cabinet Ministers most sympathetic to the idea of an early election.
But while an early election is no longer as impossible as it once was, it remains highly unlikely. As one Cabinet Minister points out ‘she is very concerned about the brand’ and going to the country early would cut against her reputation for being a grown-up who just gets on with the job in front of her and doesn’t play political games.