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The tin-eared chancellor: Philip Hammond’s ten worst gaffes

21 November 2017

4:46 PM

21 November 2017

4:46 PM

Tomorrow is D-day for Philip Hammond. As the Chancellor puts the finishing touches to his Budget, Tory MPs wait nervously – hoping it will be a day free of gaffes. Unfortunately, history suggests that this is unlikely. Over the years Hammond has earned a reputation for being tin-eared and ham-fisted.

To get readers in the mood for his Budget, Mr S has compiled a list of the Chancellor’s worst gaffes:

1. There are no unemployed people
Just this weekend, Hammond proved why he makes his colleagues nervous. Appearing on the Andrew Marr show, the Chancellor managed to turn one of his party’s top achievements into a toxic issue. Asked about unemployment – which is at a 42-year low – Hammond claimed that ‘there are no unemployed people’. It came as news to the 1.42 million people currently unemployed.

2. Public sector workers are overpaid
Not that Hammond draws a line at upsetting the unemployed – he’s also pretty good at riling employed people. The Chancellor found himself in a spot of bother in summer after his Cabinet colleagues claimed he told them public sector workers were ‘overpaid’.  While he was trying to make the point that pensions are more generous in the public sector, given that he made the comments as the government tried to calm down anger over the 1pc public sector pay cap, it was a hardly helpful intervention.

3. Most people have a second home
Although Brexit tends to be such a thorny issue that talking about it will annoy one side, Hammond managed to widen that out to everyone with an interview on the Today programme in June. The Chancellor used a housing analogy to explain why the UK needs to transition out of the EU gradually rather than drop off a cliff edge:‘We will have left the EU and I think what people will expect us to do is put in place arrangements to then move from where we were when we were members to where were are going to be in a longterm future partnership. When you buy a house you don’t necessarily move all your furniture in on the first day you buy it.’

Hammond was quickly accused of revealing how rich he was – and how out of touch he was. After all, because most people only have one house if they do buy, they tend to have to move all the furniture in on the first day.

4. The EU are the enemy
On the subject of Brexit, Hammond has developed a reputation in government for being one of the most ardent Remain-ers in May’s Cabinet. However, that didn’t stop him managing to cause a diplomatic row with Brussels. The clumsy Chancellor managed to undo some of the goodwill generated by the Prime Minister’s Florence Speech when he described the EU as ‘the enemy’, in an interview with Sky News:‘The enemy, the opponents, are out there. They’re on the other side of the negotiating table. Those are the people we have to negotiate with, negotiate hard to get the very best deal for Britain.’He later apologised for his ‘poor choice of words’.

5. Even women can drive trains
The Chancellor is also capable of insulting an entire gender. Hammond got caught up in a sexism storm after ­colleagues claimed ­Cabinet that driving a train is now so undemanding that even women can do it.Hammond said that the trade unions still had a stranglehold on who gets trained as a train driver – even though the nature of the job had changed substantially. He asked colleagues when they last saw female train driver – pointing out that there was no physical bar to them doing it. Going into detail on how simple it is to drive a train in the present day, sources say he ended his comments by saying ‘even they can do it’ — ­referring to women.

Happily, May was on hand to cut him off: ‘Chancellor I am going to take your shovel away from you.’

6. Manchester is in the north-east
Although the Conservatives like to claim they are behind the Northern powerhouse, Hammond’s speech at party conference in Manchester suggested otherwise. Hammond started his speech by telling the audience in Manchester: ’40 years ago this week, here in the north-east…’

Mr S suggests that ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ might like to spend a little longer studying a map the next time he delivers a speech outside London.

7. No votes in defence
Although the majority of his gaffes have been made in the Treasury, this behaviour is nothing new. Back when Hammond was Foreign Secretary, he managed to upset many Tory MPs by reportedly saying that there are ‘no votes in defence’ and therefore there is no imperative to protect it in the 2015 election campaign. It’s fair to say the comments went down like a cup of cold sick within the party – though Hammond’s aides said they ‘did not recognise the comments’,

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8. Driverless car U-turn
A hostage to fortune, Hammond boldly announced on Sunday that he would launch Budget week by posing in a driverless car, on a visit to the West Midlands.Given that it doesn’t take much to work out that a beleaguered Chancellor about to deliver his budget pictured in a driverless car is not a metaphor for success, people soon took to social media to ask who had approved such an idea. It turns out no-one. Hammond's aides had explicitly ruled out such a stunt so it came as news to them. The plan was quickly axed – for the second time.

9. Hammond's HS2 blunder
After attacking Labour in an interview on the Today programme for coming up with policy costings that 'don't add up', Hammond was left red-faced when he failed to come up with the right figure himself. Asked how much HS2 will cost the taxpayer, he said £32bn, when in fact it is expected to cost more than £52bn. Only a mere £20bn out...

10. Laura Kuenssberg to the rescue
In Hammond's last Budget – when the Tories were heavily leading in the polls – the Chancellor walked into disaster when he went back on a 2015 manifesto pledge and announced a national insurance rise for the self-employed.Many were left wondering why no-one spotted the problem sooner — with the manifesto breach managing to get past brains at both No 10 and No 11. So things took another turn for the worse when Hammond credited none other than Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor, with notifying him first of the problem with the pledge:

'Who first raised the issue of the manifesto? Well, credit where credit is due I think it was actually Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC shortly after I said it in the Budget speech.’

No doubt Mr S will be able to add a few more to the list this time tomorrow...


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