Philip Hammond’s Spring Statement: what he said – and what he really meant

Our Chief Political Commentator reads between the lines of the Chancellor’s speech in the House of Commons

John Rentoul
Tuesday 13 March 2018 16:03 GMT
Spring Statement: Hammond labels Labour 'Eeyores' 'relentlessly talking Britain down'

What Philip Hammond said: I won't be producing a Red Book – but I can't speak for the Right hon Gentleman.

And what he really meant: You know me as a dry, politically inept technocrat. But the fires of ambition burn fiercely in my heart and so allow me to impress Tory backbenchers by knocking John McDonnell about a bit.

What he said: If there are any Eeyores in this chamber, they are over there. I, meanwhile, am at my most positively Tigger-like.

What he meant: Gloomy? Me? Perish the thought. I have nothing to announce so I’ll just do some silly jokes and general uplift and optimism – and take the fight to the opposition, which I wasn’t allowed to do during the election.

What he said: I reported in the Autumn that borrowing was due to fall in every year of the forecast, and debt to fall as a share of GDP from 2018-19. The Office for Budget Responsibility confirms this today, and further revises down debt and borrowing in every year.

Spring Statement: McDonnell on Hammond- 'His complacency is astounding'

What he meant: Not by a statistically significant amount, but it’s not often that forecasts get better, so I’ll make the best of it.

What he said: A turning point in the nation’s recovery from the financial crisis of a decade ago. Light at the end of the tunnel.

What he meant: My career was a runaway underground train to nowhere, but I am, as I said, an optimist.

What he said: Judge me by my record.

What he meant: I say to my colleagues who will choose a successor to the Prime Minister that you may want to consider someone who has a bit of experience and who doesn’t overpromise and underdeliver.

What he said: If, in the Autumn, the public finances continue to reflect the improvements that today’s report hints at, then, in accordance with our balanced approach, and using the flexibility provided by the fiscal rules, I would have capacity to enable further increases in public spending and investment in the years ahead.

What he meant: I’m a sunny optimist and a hammer of the crypto-communist opposite, but I am going to impress you with my prudence so I’m not going to count my chickens before they are hatched.

What he said: While continuing to drive value for money to ensure that not a single penny of precious taxpayers’ money is wasted.

What he meant: So I shall hint at a bit of extra spending, while emphasising sound money – in contrast to the scary spending plans of the other lot.

What he said: Since the Budget, we have made substantial progress in our negotiations with the European Union to deliver a Brexit that supports British jobs, businesses and prosperity, and I look forward to another important step forward at the European Council next week.

What he meant: This bit is addressed to my Eurosceptic colleagues: the Brexit talks are going very well and the idea that I am the Cabinet doom-monger on this subject is mistaken. I am a sunny optimist of our bright Brexit future. Brexiteers, vote for me.

What he said: We will continue to prepare for all eventualities. And today the Chief Secretary is publishing the departmental allocations of over £1.5 billion of Brexit preparation funding for 2018-19 which I announced at the autumn Budget.

What he meant: There was a silly fuss a while back when it was said I was refusing to spend money on contingency planning for a “no deal” Brexit. Nothing could be further from the truth. Vote for me.

What he said: I can announce today that the Education Secretary will release up to £80m of funding to support those small businesses in engaging an apprentice.

What he meant: I said I wasn’t going to make any spending announcements. See? Underclaim, overdeliver.

What he said: We’re undertaking the largest road building programme since the Seventies.

What he meant: Back to the golden age fondly remembered by most of the people who have a vote in the next Tory leadership election – the era of imaginative and green road building and absolutely no dreary flyovers and underpasses at all.

What he said: I can announce today that we have just agreed a deal with the West Midlands to have committed to deliver 215,000 homes by 2030-31.

What he meant: Vote Tory for a home of your own. Terms and conditions apply.*

*In Birmingham. By 2031.

What he said: We are delivering on our plan; with a balanced approach; restoring the public finances; investing in our economy and our public services … as we build our vision of a country that works for everyone … a force for good in the world; a country we can all be proud to pass on to our children. I commend this statement to the House.

What he meant: Right, that’s the boring bit. Now I shall wait for John McDonnell’s reply, which won’t be very good, so I shall tear into it in partisan terms in my second prepared speech, for which I have reserved some even more furious Labour-bashing, Tory-pleasing lines. Vote for me.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in