Chancellor faces daunting balancing act on budget day

It will be like a day at the circus for chancellor Philip Hammond when he delivers his Budget on Wednesday. But it will certainly not be a fun day out for him; more likely it'll be as pleasurable as balancing on a high-wire on a wobbly unicycle.

Tuesday, 21st November 2017, 9:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 12:45 pm
Chris Moncrieff
Chris Moncrieff

Mr Hammond is far from being a popular figure in the cabinet, and his relations with the Prime Minister are said to be at a low ebb. On top of all that, he does not enjoy the confidence of swathes of Conservative back-benchers.

So, he has to tread very carefully, if he is to command any real support from his own side.

One area which should be relatively uncontroversial and which he has already half-promised to include, is to provide incentives for a large-scale increase in house building.

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Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond after he addressed the Conservative Party Conference at the Manchester Central Convention Complex in Manchester on October 2

But this would need to be allied to further checks on immigration, or else the curse of housing shortage will never go away.

He is also being pressed to remove duty on beer in an effort to stop the daily disappearance of public houses. What is more, old-age pensioners could find themselves worse off.

Meanwhile, there are the usual demands for vast increases in the resources available to the NHS, as well as to a further wide variety of public institutions.

Never before has a chancellor had to face such a terrifying balancing act.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond after he addressed the Conservative Party Conference at the Manchester Central Convention Complex in Manchester on October 2

• The Brexit talks are getting uglier by the day.

And the UK’s case is not helped by the unruly band of fifth-column anti-Brexiteer Tories who, many would suggest, are giving succour and comfort to the EU’s flint-like team of negotiators.

Why should the UK be punished and threatened with eye-watering fines for doing what is entirely its right, namely leaving the EU?

Indeed, Brussels is shamefully starting to treat the negotiations as some kind of bad joke.

When Brexit secretary David Davis said the UK had been the only ones making concessions so far, the EU grandee, Donald Tusk, made this withering (or so he thought) reply: “I appreciate Mr Davis’s English sense of humour.”

The UK team needs to be much fiercer, with table-banging and foghorn diplomacy – that, it seems, is the only way to have any effect on these money-grabbing Eurocrats.

• I can fully understand the fury – I don’t think that is too strong a word – of the Scottish Labour’s top brass at the surprise news that the outgoing leader Kezia Dugdale, is suddenly shooting off to Australia to take part in ‘I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!’

It is hard to disagree with their view that Ms Dugdale’s place is in the Scottish Parliament, rather than in the Australian jungle. Nor am I surprised there is already talk of suspending her from the party, although Jeremy Corbyn, to my utter astonishment, does not think that is the right course of action.

• Once again, busybodies are trying to interfere with the way local party committees select their parliamentary candidates; it is the Electoral Commission this time, whingeing about the types of candidates who fought the last general election.

They complain an overwhelming majority of candidates were white and male. ‘So what?’ is my response to that.

They want to see a Commons picked by quotas, in effect, numerically reflecting a mirror image of the state of the country as a whole. What rubbish!

These people want to change the way people vote, in some cases on the basis of the colour of their skin.

And here was I, foolishly assuming the last thing we should worry about is the ethnic origin of candidates.