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Theresa May refuses to rule out sacking Philip Hammond

The Prime Minister's answers confirmed that all is not well between No.10 and No.11. 

Theresa May and Philip Hammond were at Canary Wharf's One Canada Square to launch an attack dossier on Labour. But it was blue-on-blue warfare that the assembled media were more interested in. In his earlier appearance on the Today programme, Hammond refused to deny fraught rows with No.10 (merely dismissing the reports as "tittle-tattle") and even appeared to confess to swearing. 

The Chancellor has clashed with Nick Timothy, May's co-chief of staff and the author of the Conservative manifesto (which will be published tomorrow), over economic interventionism (which No.11 has resisted), the National Insurance U-turn (which saw a Hammond aide brand Timothy "economically illiterate") and the Tories' tax lock (which the Chancellor pre-emptively suggested would be dropped).  

Against this unhappy backdrop, May was asked whether Hammond would remain in his post after the election. "It's true to say that the Chancellor and I, and every other member of my team, are focused on June 8th," the PM replied, conspicuously refusing to guarantee Hammond's job. The Chancellor, meanwhile, hastily clarified that while he did "occasionally swear", he was not referring to "any particular conversation". Hammond added: "We work very closely together, she has got an extremely strong team around her. I work very closely withr her team - some of them are people I have known for many, many years. We do work very well together as a team. All this media tittle tattle is just that - media tittle tattle." 

At the press conference's close, May was invited to return the "endorsement". "Very happy to do so," she replied, again refusing to confirm Hammond's position. She then somewhat awkwardly added: "As Philip says, we have worked together over the years, for many years. Longer than we would care to identify [laughter] - that's an age-related comment, nothing else." 

May's answers did nothing to dispel the impression that all is not well with No.10 and No.11. Indeed, they merely reinforced it. "Embarrassing for Hammond," tweeted his shadow John McDonnell. "It seems May has no confidence in her own Chancellor. Tory splits at the top." 

If the relationship between May and Hammond has often appeared troubled it is partly because they have followed the uniquely close David Cameron and George Osborne (Cameron always confirmed his friend's position). But there also genuine tensions. That May has refused to rule out sacking Hammond, after Amber Rudd was tipped as a replacement, is one of the election's most significant moments.

It's true that prime ministers like to keep their options open and that, were May to confirm Hammond's position, she would be challenged to issue similar guarantees to Boris Johnson and David Davis. But there is no more important relationship in government than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. With the polls suggesting that a Conservative victory remains inevitable, expect May to be pressed again on who will occupy No.11.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
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My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.