Budget 2017: Philip Hammond could have promised to buy every millennial their own house, personally – but they still wouldn’t vote Tory

There were, to be fair, some faintly acceptable jokes. Theresa May produced a packet of cough sweets from her pocket and handed them to the Chancellor, a self-deprecating reference to her own hell dream conference speech of last month

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Wednesday 22 November 2017 17:34 GMT
By the time the Chancellor sat down, the rabbit was already dead
By the time the Chancellor sat down, the rabbit was already dead (AP)

In November 2017, an Austrian physicist called Erwin Schrödinger devised a thought experiment called Schrödinger’s rabbit.

A rabbit was placed in a Chancellor’s hat, to be pulled out at the end of a Budget which would confirm UK growth forecasts had been slashed at a time when they were rising everywhere else in the developed world.

At the moment of its removal the rabbit, which was in fact a metaphor for the abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers, had every outward appearance of good health.

But the rabbit was already dead. Not so much radioactively poisoned as shot to pieces by the Office for Budget Responsibility. Prior to the Budget, they had analysed it and concluded it would in fact force house prices up. “The main gainers from the policy are people who already own property,” it said.

As the Chancellor went through some piecemeal reforms that were entirely overshadowed by the dismal forecasts, it would not quite be accurate to say the rabbit existed in a simultaneous state of life and death. Its life or death would not be confirmed at the moment it was removed from the hat.

There were no 50/50 chances about it. It was definitely, definitely, 100 per cent dead.

It was just that, at the moment it came out, it would, briefly, look alive, like some prehistoric human mummified by volcanic ash that disintegrates on first contact with daylight.

And that brief moment was enough for the Tory backbenches to cheer. Phil Hammond, reaching into his hat for the powdered bloody rabbit corpse that he hoped might save the day. That was as good as it got.

This Watership Down ending was revolutionary in its own way. Previous Budgets from as far back as, say six months ago, have taken up to several hours to fall apart, when it turns out the central promise in them breaks a manifesto pledge and has to be scrapped hours later.

Budget 2017: Local authorities will be able to charge 100% premium on council tax on empty housing

No one was expecting that to happen this time round. With a brand new manifesto in which every commitment has already been broken, Hammond should have been on safe ground.

So to deliver, in such circumstances, a pre-collapsed Budget is a remarkable feat.

Anyway, back to the growth forecasts. It is, how can you put this, unfortunate, that the Conservatives are fighting to relaunch their new slogan, “Building a Britain Fit For The Future”, right at the same time they have managed to stretch their own private internal neuroses onto the country, and in so doing absolutely hammered the prospects of the British economy.

There is not a year in the next five when growth is even now expected to be more than 2 per cent, he revealed. That’s never happened before. And in recent years, even expectations have turned out to be wildly optimistic. The numbers Alistair Darling once trotted out for the years we now live in are too laughable even to repeat.

There were, to be fair, some faintly acceptable jokes. After a set-up too convoluted to go into, Theresa May produced a packet of cough sweets from her pocket and handed them to the Chancellor, a self-deprecating reference to her own hell dream conference speech of last month.

Harsh critics may suggest it might have worked better with a certain lightness of touch. That it would have worked better if the cough sweets had been subtly placed on the despatch box, rather than removed from her pocket and held aloft like the sword of Excalibur. Still, as pre-cooked gags on such occasions go, it certainly beat the Mao’s Red Book atrocity of two years ago.

I have always been exceptionally cynical about Budget speeches. On several occasions, I have been known to question whether anyone alive can actually pinpoint the moment at which anything said in a Budget speech has affected their life at all.

I now, formally, take this back. When the Chancellor announced that stamp duty for first-time buyers would be abolished “from today” social media instantly lit up with the righteous anger of first-time buyers who had bought their first house house as recently as yesterday, and who had handed over thousands of pounds in tax that a 24-hour delay would have saved them.

But it wasn’t all bad news. One tweeter, by the name of Siobhan, who was due to exchange contracts this afternoon, beamed with news that “Budget 2017 has just saved me £600”, money that would be back “back in our pockets for Christmas! Over the moon.”

How unfortunate then, for Spreadsheet Phil, that Siobhan also has a proud “I’m Voting Labour” picture over her profile picture and was quick to clarify her comments:

“It doesn’t mean the current government aren’t the worst we’ve had in my lifetime. Just because I’ve done well from them doesn’t mean millions of others aren’t suffering at their hands.”

The rabbit’s dead, Phil. The rabbit’s dead. Stand back. Sit down. There’s nothing you can do.

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