The Budget is one of the biggest milestones in any political calendar. In a world where “events, dear boy” largely set the political mood, it represents perhaps the Government’s best opportunity each year to press the reset button and set a new course. Moreover, it’s one the few moments when the public directly – and sometimes immediately – notice the consequences of the political decisions they hear about.
Even more than usual, this year’s Budget is vital for the future of this government, and the political future of the Chancellor. Against a backdrop of Brexit, the lost majority and a series of scandals, any sort of domestic narrative this government aspired to has eroded to zero over the course of the year. Next week represents their best – and perhaps their last – opportunity to craft a story that resonates with the public. Expect a Budget speech in which talk of the Industrial Strategy and house-building figures are at the forefront and where talk of austerity and restraint – which have dominated Budget Day for nearly a decade – are firmly on the back-burner. The problem is whether this talk will translate into action and policies to reset the narrative or be what is feared – a damp squib.
For the Chancellor, he is very much in the last chance saloon. Whilst it is not the job of the Chancellor to be liked, it is important that they’re respected, and Philip Hammond struggles to command the respect of his colleagues around the Cabinet table. His rating among Tory members is dire. The Chancellor is criticised for his excessive caution leading to his propensity to say ‘no’ to everything, and his absence of any apparent political vision. His relentlessly downbeat tone on Brexit -which he argues is realism – frustrates even some Remain-supporting Tories and practically all Leavers. Many senior Ministers have argued the Chancellor needs to go long before now. Perhaps even more than the Prime Minister, Hammond’s job is on the line next Wednesday. The Party want vision, direction and a degree of optimism. For Spreadsheet Phil, the heat is truly on.