When Denis Healey was chancellor, he used to talk of the delight of “Sod Off Day”: the day that he would pay off the United Kingdom’s loan from the IMF and could tell the Fund to sod off.
And in a way, Philip Hammond’s budget yesterday was designed in a similar fashion. Here’s £2.8bn more for the NHS: now sod off, Simon Stevens, with your continual demands for more money. Here’s £3bn for Brexit contingency planning: now sod off, Leave ultras. Here’s £15bn extra in support for housebuilding: now sod off, Conservative MPs elected in 2015 and 2017. And he threw in a cut in stamp duty, increasing the threshold on which it is levied to £300,000, because no one ever went wrong promising Tory MPs tax cuts.
Of course as far as the actual problems go, the amounts are derisory. Neither the amounts heading for the NHS or Brexit planning are adequate to the task, while the stamp duty cut – which the OBR estimates will actually hurt first-time buyers – effectively undoes the very limited progress that the extra £15bn secures.
So, mission accomplished? I suppose it depends on what you think Hammond’s mission was. If the Budget’s function was to secure Hammond’s position, it was an undoubted success – even the Spectator gives it a thumbs up, albeit through gritted teeth, in their leader. “Eeyore no more!” cheers the Daily Mail‘s splash.
But if the objective is to preserve the United Kingdom as a property-owning democracy and see off Labour at the next election, well, that mission isn’t going so well.