QUENTIN LETTS watches Chancellor Philip Hammond’s first Autumn Statement

Unexciting men have their pride. 

Philip Hammond was talking about ‘a world-class digital infrastructure’ when a derisive Labour MP snorted ‘it says ’ere’ (ie you’re spouting rubbish). 

Mr Hammond snapped back: ‘It says ’ere because I wrote it here!’

It was a prickly response, even rather vain. 

What it meant was, ‘I’m in charge now, I’m the Chancellor, I’m Big Boring Phil and you lot had better get used to it’.

Philip Hammond was talking about ‘a world-class digital infrastructure’ when a derisive Labour MP snorted ‘it says ’ere’ (ie you’re spouting rubbish)

Philip Hammond was talking about ‘a world-class digital infrastructure’ when a derisive Labour MP snorted ‘it says ’ere’ (ie you’re spouting rubbish)

Philip Hammond was talking about ‘a world-class digital infrastructure’ when a derisive Labour MP snorted ‘it says ’ere’ (ie you’re spouting rubbish)

As Hammond speeches go, the Autumn Statement was short and reasonably un-glum. 

He kept it to 45 minutes. 

By his own morose standards he was almost skittishly optimistic in places. 

Our economy had ‘confounded commentators with its strength and resilience since the British people decided, exactly five months ago, to leave the EU’.

Only a cur would remind you that those confounded commentators included, er, P. Hammond. 

During the referendum campaign he was one of the Remain campaign’s most lugubrious basset hounds, spreading pessimism. 

But that was then and this is now.

Speaker Bercow, inviting Mr Hammond to approach the despatch box, hailed him not only as Chancellor but also as ‘First Secretary of State’. 

I’m not sure that’s quite right. Oops. Cabinet ministers care about status.

As Hammond speeches go, the Autumn Statement was short and reasonably un-glum.

As Hammond speeches go, the Autumn Statement was short and reasonably un-glum.

As Hammond speeches go, the Autumn Statement was short and reasonably un-glum.

Little gaffes like that can sting a chap inside the underpants. 

Mr Hammond coughed up a tribute to George Osborne who was sitting two rows back, beside Ken Clarke. 

From time to time these two former Chancellors exchanged jocular remarks.

Who knows what they were saying? ‘Thank God we’re out of it’, perhaps. 

Or ‘good grief, don’t say Hammond’s fallen for that old potato from the Treasury mandarins’?

This mini-Budget certainly felt like the work of Whitehall rather than a sharply personal, radical, philosophical contribution. 

Steady as she goes, chaps. The Establishment is at the helm. 

They haven’t yet got the hang of this Brexit thing. 

When Mr Hammond raised the tax on insurance from (an already outrageous) 10 per cent, he justified it by saying this was ‘lower than in many European countries’. 

So what? We are leaving the EU. We should surely charge less than them.

‘I’m in charge now, I’m the Chancellor, I’m Big Boring Phil and you lot had better get used to it’

‘I’m in charge now, I’m the Chancellor, I’m Big Boring Phil and you lot had better get used to it’

‘I’m in charge now, I’m the Chancellor, I’m Big Boring Phil and you lot had better get used to it’

If the speech lacked surprises, that was partly because the Government machine had pumped it all out to the media beforehand. 

Furthermore, he uses jargon and formula rather as Mozart uses recitative. 

Relief is always ‘sharp’, a message is always ‘clear’, commitments are ‘delivered’ and uncertainty forms in ‘clouds’. 

Language soon withers when it is so drably deployed.

Coups de theatre are not the Hammond way. 

He is not an original character, not a bat-flasher or show-stealer. 

In the fable he would have been the tortoise, not the hare. 

Though we are always meant to admire it, I have long suspected the tortoise would have been an insufferable know-all with one of those ‘told you so’ voices.

Nor is Mr Hammond a Boris. Does this gnaw at him? 

Yesterday he took a swipe at Boris. 

With exaggerated humility he said: ‘I suspect I will prove no more adept at producing rabbits from hats than the Foreign Secretary has been at retrieving balls from the back of scrums.’

You will recall that Boris, asked if he would like to be PM, once said he would try to grab the ball if it shot out the back of the scrum. 

Mr Hammond’s remark yesterday reminded Boris that he had failed. 

Boris, standing by the Chair, smeared a stoical grin on his face. 

He did not look entirely gruntled. 

Mr Hammond ran through debt forecasts by the Office for Budget Responsibility. 

Cue melodramatic gasps from Labour MPs (who expressed further horror when he acted against whiplash rip-offs).

But Mr Hammond also took care to describe ‘the fundamental strengths of the British economy, the global reach of our services, the strength of our science and high-tech manufacturing, the cutting-edge British businesses that are leading the world in disruptive technologies’.

He pointed out that most European countries would kill for our projected growth.

Let’s hope yesterday’s minor measures widen that gap. 

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