If Philip Hammond were an opening batsman, one would have to say he looked indecently relaxed during his Test debut. He has a reputation as a dour, dull performer, but today he played some shots.
He enjoys being at the crease all the more because he hoped to get there before the age of 60. But the long period of preparation which he has undergone, which has included, as he said, running two high-spending departments, has not been wasted.
For when Hammond says, “that’s complicated but it’s good news”, even the Labour members reckon he knows what he’s talking about. His manner is that of a reliable professional man, who will take care of various dreary tasks on behalf of his clients, and find the most prudent way to proceed in difficult circumstances.
Growth is going to be lower than expected, according to the Office of Budget Responsibility, but Hammond seemed far from oppressed by these forecasts, and suggested it will still be possible to get the public finances back into balance before we are all dead.
The Chancellor gives the reassuring impression of not being a soft touch. One would not relish being a spending minister who went to ask him for more money. At that point, this genial, expansive figure would be replaced by a skinflint. He will, however, very generously “incentivise” departments by allowing them to keep part of any savings they manage to find.
Hammond’s idea of the seasons sounded odd. He said with a flourish that he is abolishing the Autumn Statement, only to add a moment later that he will be introducing the Spring Statement.
But in this era of climate change, it can be difficult to know from the weather what time of year it is.
He also told a completely gratuitous and unnecessary joke about Boris Johnson failing to retrieve the ball from the back of the scrum – an image Johnson once used when asked if he wanted to be Prime Minister.
The sooner the present Prime Minister and Chancellor stop telling jokes about the Foreign Secretary, the better.