19th November 2017
Chancellor Philip Hammond – skating on thin ice
This Wednesday (22nd November) brings another Tory budget. No doubt it will be as devoid of ideas or purpose as the many that have preceded it over the past decade. The only real purpose behind the George Osborne budgets in the ‘coalition’ years was to ensure that the austerity policies cushioned the rich, while making the poor the scapegoats for the gambling debts of the bankers, which led to the financial crash. No amount of sugar coating can lead to any other conclusion.
George Osborne did at least have a constituency within his own party supporting him. He also had the backing of his Prime Minister, David Cameron. It appears that current UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has neither of these things. He is barracked by the Brexiteers who regard him as too lightweight to deliver on their aims to get tough with the EU. On the other hand, the Tory Remainers do not regard him as having enough clout to fight their corner in Cabinet and back him only in so far as any replacement may be worse.
It is widely believed that, had she not called an election which reduced her majority and therefore her room to manoeuvre, Theresa May would have sacked Hammond in a post-election re-shuffle. To suggest that the Chancellor is skating on thin ice is to put it mildly.
Then again, the Tories are collectively skating on ideological thin ice. The Eurosceptic faction having succeeded in getting Brexit through, the major impact upon the Tories appears to be to have split them in two. If the referendum outcome itself was evenly balanced, the impact of the outcome has put internal relations in the Tory party on a knife edge.
Boris Johnson is the most obvious indicator of internal dissatisfaction, with regular missives in the Tory press outlining his position on Brexit, part of a naked power play for the leadership. Jeremy Hunt has been openly critical of investment levels in the NHS while Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, has committed something close to heresy in Tory circles by calling for more investment in public sector housing.
The antics of former International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, on a so-called holiday in Israel hardly meet the convention of collective Cabinet responsibility. Michael Gove, it is said, has been stepping well beyond his brief as Environment Secretary at recent Cabinet meetings and making economic pronouncements, in a thinly veiled pitch for Hammond’s job. Former Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has recently seen a career characterised by selling arms to dictators and supporting NATO intervention in the Middle East, collapse in even greater ignominy.
Nothing Hammond says on Wednesday will put this particular iteration of Humpty Dumpty back together again.
The Labour Party may not be a paragon of unity. Factionalising against Jeremy Corbyn has gone on ever since he was elected leader and will no doubt continue once he gets the keys to 10, Downing St. However, the momentum following the election is clearly with Corbyn. Even the dullest of Labour MPs can see that and will toe the line if only to keep their own jobs.
For the budget on Wednesday Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, is calling for an emergency budget for public services, a budget which will put the needs of the many before those of the few, the poor before the needs of the rich.
There are five core demands at the heart of Labour’s alternative budget:
- Pause and fix universal credit
- Lift the public sector pay cap
- Infrastructure spending to boost the economy
- Support for public services in health, education and local government
- A large scale housebuilding programme
It is hardly a programme for revolution but it is the basis from which an alternative economic strategy can be delivered. Even within the constraints of 21st century capitalism, it is a programme which could at least begin to change the emphasis of economic thinking. It is certainly the basis upon which Labour could credibly build an election victory. With the Tories in complete disarray, that opportunity cannot come too soon.