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7 December 2017

Why is gaffe-prone Philip Hammond still in his job?

Thanks to Conservative Remainers, the Chancellor’s position is safer than it really should be.

By Stephen Bush

It’s not just Tory Brexiteers who see everything through a Remain/Leave lens: increasingly, their pro-Remain Conservative counterparts do too. The existence of any kind of  “save Philip Hammond” lobby is testament to that.

He’s embroiled in three rows, each of which attest to his own political tone-deafness. He appeared to blame the increasing participation of people with disabilities in the workplace for the United Kingdom’s low productivity. (Among other things, while the employment gap for people with and without disabilities has decreased in recent years, it simply hasn’t been enough to explain the fall in productivity.)

He conceded that the United Kingdom will of course settle its outstanding liabilities (the so-called “divorce bill”) regardless of what happens with the final EU-UK deal. This argument has a lot going for it as far as the facts go, but the government either ought to have made it from the beginning or not at all. Now they are trapped between the false Remainer meme that the bill is “paying for Brexit” (no, we would have paid this money anyway as an EU member) and the false Brexiteer one that it is in any way going to determine the quality of the EU trade deal (no, again, we would have paid this money anyway) and would be wise to simply shut up about it.

And he’s caught in an increasingly public row about defence spending with Gavin Williamson, who uses his first big interview since getting the post to tell the Daily Mail that British people who leave to fight for the self-described Islamic State should be killed, and that the armed forces should be fully funded today. (I suppose it was unlikely to be the other way round.)

The blunt truth is that these misfortunes happen to Hammond because he is not very good at politics. But just as his detractors see his flaws through the axis of the Brexit question, so too can he rely on the support of enough Conservative Remainers to make his position safer than it really should be.

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