Tories used to laugh at Jeremy Corbyn. But today, Philip Hammond said that the questions Labour are asking ‘deserve a response.’ He acknowledged that people feel that ‘they are working for the system but the system isn’t working for them.’
Hammond tried to deliver a response based on Tory pragmatism, making the case for evolution rather than revolution. But he warned the Tories that if they ‘look for a moment like the party of “no change”’ then Corbyn will have his chance.'
The problem with Hammond’s speech, though, is that the Tories are being so incremental on domestic policy at the moment that they do risk looking like the party of ‘no change’. Where’s the urgency on, for example, housing that would change the minds of those who think that the system doesn’t work for them?
It being 2018, Hammond also talked about Brexit. Hammond defended Chequers by arguing that ‘frictionless trade’ is vital for business. He also tried to dangle a carrot in front on recalcitrant Tory backbenchers by arguing that if May can get a Chequers-style agreement with the EU then there’ll be a ‘deal dividend’ which will boost economic growth and allow for tax cuts. He did, though, say that he would maintain ‘enough fiscal firepower to support our economy’ in the event of no deal. which is very different in tone from his comments at the ‘no deal’ Cabinet a few weeks ago.
Neither Hammond nor May are natural orators. Nor do they do the ‘vision thing’. But if the Tories are to beat Corbyn, then they’ll need a bit of inspiration and an agenda to show that they aren’t just technocrats.