Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
23 November 2016

Philip Hammond’s sleight of hand

The new Chancellor is trying to thread a very tricky knot.

By Stephen Bush

Philip Hammond kicked off the first Autumn Statment by saying he wasn’t going to produce a rabbit out of the hat, a last minute surprise of the kind favoured by Gordon Brown and George Osborne. 

He did, however, perform a cunning sleight-of-hand on public spending, announcing significant wriggle room on the government’s deficit targets, the new setting out a suite of policies that could all have sat happily in his predecessor’s fiscal rule. The numbers may have sounded large but in government spending terms, they are small beer. That £24bn on infrastructure, for example, amounts to less than half what the government will spend on HS2 and is only slightly more than the full cost of Crossrail. 

But what he did was tread a very tricky tightrope: any move that suggests that the British economy might take a post-Brexit hit, or might not get anything other than a fantastic deal out of Brexit, would see him attacked as a panicked and bitter Remainer by the Brexiteers in parliament and the press. Keeping quiet would mean binding his hands should – as looks increasingly likely – Britain end up with a hard landing when it leaves the European Union.

What he’s instead done is give himself increased room for manoeuvre, without actually using any of that room. His hope will be that, when the time comes, he’ll feel the benefit of that freedom without the embarrassment of the U-Turn. The opposition’s task will be expose his pessimism, and widen the gap between Hammond and the government’s Brexit boosters.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Your guide to the best writing across politics, ideas, books and culture - both in the New Statesman and from elsewhere - sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
A better future starts at home
How to create an inclusive workplace and embrace neurodiversity
Universal Credit falls short of covering the bare essentials. That needs to change