"It was apparent that the spreadsheet chancellor was spread thin by having to create a cushion for our entry into the unknown as we leave the EU"
Today, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond announced his financial plans in what he declared to be the last ever Spring Budget, with spending on social care and self-employment tax rises.
The Government also announced new spending commitments around education, announcing new spending to 110 new free schools, including new specialist maths schools, and £300m to help the worse off attend selective schools.
Whilst budget forecasts either improved or stayed the same, it must be remembered that everything is relative. Hammond stressed how national debt was forecast to go down for the first time since 2001. However, in the past two years, national debt forecasts have gone up £100bn. Despite presenting himself as the accountant chancellor, Hammond’s use of cynical spin was very reminiscent of the man he dedicated a large amount of his speech spiteing, George Osborne.
Hammond’s tax raise on the self-employed was not only a contradiction of the Conservatives’ budget commitment, but a declaration of war to an ex-chancellor who’s desperate to stay relevant within UK politics. Osborne’s ex-advisor’s were quick to pour water on the changes, whilst conservative political commentators were quick to suggest the changes may struggle with such a small majority.
In many ways it was a déjà-vu budget, as Hammond decided to re-announce changes on Alcohol and Tobacco duty, corporation tax and the yearly declaration of a tax avoidance clampdown, which have featured in every budget since 2013.
Unlike his predecessor, Hammond had no qualms about intervening in the economy, albeit too little and too late. Hammond’s routine of trying to intervene in multiple markets whilst being entirely aware that his interventions will not go far enough. The chancellor is trying to spin too many plates at the same time, but doesn’t give enough economic exertion to have any meaningful effect about any of the nation's problems. £2bn for social care isn’t the meaningful intervention that’s necessary in a national crisis, and seems more of a get out clause for when the inevitable collapse occurs.
Hammond’s give and take budget was self-evident in his cushioning of a fall inflicted by Hammond himself. The chancellor simultaneously removed tax-free dividends for many business, whilst also providing a £300 million hardship fund for the worst small businesses affected.
It was apparent that the spreadsheet chancellor was spread thin by having to create a cushion for our entry into the unknown as we leave the EU, which was obvious by the indecision plaguing the chancellor, as the government was bereft of a coherent vision for the nation, and bereft of an opposition holding them to account.
Ben Gartside is a Young Fabians member and Contributing Editor of Anticipations. Follow him on Twitter at @BenGartside