Philip Hammond’s speech has had a mixed reaction from his MP colleagues, it is fair to say. A number have run up to me and rolled their eyes at how terrible his jokes were, or at his skill in managing to make one of the most important jobs in government sound boring, even telling delegates at one point not to switch off before talking about the very interesting productivity puzzle.
One minister mutters that the speech was ‘classic Hammond’, which was more of a reference to his lack of charisma than his rather downbeat assessment of everything, from how interesting his job is to the consequences of Brexit. It was indeed striking that his assessment of the consequences of Brexit was quite so different to the rather glib picture painted by Boris Johnson yesterday. Hammond is one of the ministers most concerned about the impact of that vote, and there was something a little more credible about his acknowledgment that uncertainty was difficult for businesses and that the government would have to change course on deficit reduction. After the speech, Amber Rudd told a fringe meeting that Hammond had been ‘sombre’, before correcting herself and saying ‘sober’. But that’s what it was — right down to the terrible jokes.