Oh dear. As Budget day looms, there is growing concern among the Conservatives that Philip Hammond may be about to do something stupid. However, few expected him to step into disaster before Wednesday.
In an interview on the Andrew Marr show this morning, the Chancellor created a pre-Budget row as he bungled his way through the exchange - dropping a series of clangers.
First off, Hammond managed to turn one of his party's top achievements into a toxic issue. Asked about unemployment – which is at a 42-year low – Hammond claimed that ‘there are no unemployed people’:
'Where are these unemployed people? There are no unemployed people.'
Mr S suspects that he 1.42 million unemployed people in Britain take a different view.
Next up, Hammond appeared to suggest he at best had a shaky grasp of the national debt by claiming that UK debt was ‘about to decline’. This is flatly untrue. The national debt is about £1.79 trillion, and whether Hammond realises it or not he proposes to increase this to £1.92 trillion by 2020/21. It will only decrease in 2021/22 and even then by a derisory 0.7 per cent – a forecast so far away that no one would believe it. If Hammond was talking about a ratio (like debt/GDP) he should have said so: there is a rather important difference between the two.
Given the pressure on the Chancellor – and the lukewarm response to his housing announcement today – Mr S predicts trouble ahead.
Update: Hammond has to use an interview on Peston on Sunday to correct himself over the number of unemployed people in the country. It turns out they do exist:
'Of course I didn't mean that. There's 1.4 million unemployed people in this country and that's 1.4 million too many.'