Philip Hammond held the Budget today to avoid a bunch of Halloween jokes about a zombie economy and so on. To compensate, the Chancellor brought a bunch of random sentences in fancy dress as ‘jokes’. There were inexplicable quips about poaching rabbits, a medley of toilet puns accompanying funding for keeping public conveniences open, and the strangest of all: ‘fiscal Phil says fiscal rules, OK.’
What the Chancellor hadn’t dressed up, though, were the series of announcements in this Budget. They weren’t fancy. Or radical. There was some political appropriation, with Hammond trying to deal with a few Labour threats by stealing their policies. He announced that he will not be signing any further PFI contracts, something announced by Jeremy Corbyn’s party long ago. He claimed the Tories were the party who would actually crack down on tax avoidance, announcing a UK digital services tax.
He also tried to show that the government is listening to concerns about certain key areas of public spending. This had varying degrees of success, though. An additional £1 billion for the implementation of Universal Credit, and an increase in the UC work allowance by £1,000 a year are meaty announcements. The announcement of £400 million extra for schools less so, and Hammond made sure it went down as well as a bad taste Halloween costume by telling the Chamber that this would help schools buy that ‘extra bit of kit’. Expect Labour to mock this line repeatedly while highlighting cases where schools are asking for help with purchasing the basics.
There were also nods to Tory worries, particularly on defence, with an announcement of £1 billion for the Ministry of Defence.
He managed to match together his arguments about fiscal responsibility with Theresa May’s claim that ‘austerity is over’ by telling the Chamber that ‘austerity is coming to an end, but discipline will remain’. Hammond said this was a ‘Budget for the future’, which was technically right in the sense that it was a ‘holding the line’ Budget, hoping to buy the Tories a little more time.