Philip Hammond is trying to emulate a George Osborne who never really existed

The real George Osborne would never have delivered a speech like this.


Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

One of the biggest cultural differences between the big two political parties is that the Conservatives tend to canonise their past while Labour prefers to bury it.

Even George Osborne, who thanks to his public heresies on Brexit is not a popular figure in the party these days, has been elevated into the pantheon as unyielding austerian who resisted fiscal irresponsibility and got Britain back in the black.

Of course, the reality is that Osborne abandoned his original deficit targets and introduced all manner of irresponsible gimmicks to get the Tories re-elected in 2015, from Help to Buy, which pumped further demand into the country’s dysfunctional housing market but helped two vital planks of the 2015 coalition – childless dual-earner couples in the Midlands and boomer landlords – to the fuel duty freeze, which eased the pressure on wages. There was also some good-old-fashioned debt-financed infrastructure spending, largely but not exclusively on A-roads in marginal constituencies.

The real Osborne, were he still at the Exchequer, would look at the deadlocked polls, rising voter concern about the state of the public realm, bank the day-to-day surplus the government has achieved and turn the taps of public spending in order to give the Conservative Party a fighting chance at the next election and protect the central project of maintaining the British economic model as is. He absolutely would not be delivering a homily about markets and talking about the need to find an answer to Jeremy Corbyn’s policies.

But Philip Hammond’s problem is that only the imagined Osborne would be doing all those things; he is instead emulating a Chancellor who never really existed in the first place.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.