UK Politics

Autumn Statement: Hammond chooses to flaunt caution

Philip Hammond Image copyright HoC

At a time of great uncertainty the new chancellor chose to display caution.

Despite long wanting to get his hands on the nation's purse strings, Philip Hammond was not tempted into grand gestures.

There were modest giveaways for those "just about managing" in order to keep true to Theresa May's promise of a Government for all; a reduction in the rate benefits are withdrawn for those working, a ban on letting fees and a boost to the minimum wage - much briefed in advance to perhaps gain some headlines before gloomy forecasts became the story.

There was a shift away from his predecessor's focus on deficit reduction within a set timeframe - instead Mr Hammond said he would deliver a surplus as soon as possible, announcing investment in housing and roads, money for research and development - the focus on boosting productivity.

But this was still a Chancellor keen to limit spending in order to secure stability.

Brexit has made the future unpredictable.

Philip Hammond may have more insight that most into the Government's planned approach to leaving the EU, but he still wanted to ensure he had enough in his back pocket to withstand any shocks that may come.

And with vast increases in borrowing and reduced growth predicted, Mr Hammond limited the giveaways and changed the economic rules to give himself the flexibility to respond.

This was a careful balancing act, an attempt to follow through on promised support for those in society who need it most while keeping the nation's books in order.

At the same time, this was an attempt to recognise the potential economic turbulence Brexit could bring without invoking the ire of backbench Eurosceptics with an overly negative outlook.

Mr Hammond was careful to speak of opportunities as well as challenges, describing a "great nation", resilient and strong.

By his own admission there was no grand "rabbit in the hat". Mr Hammond wasn't out to steal the show, but rather prove he can be the steady hand on the tiller in choppy economic waters.

But for Labour, this was an opportunity to seize on a chink in the government's economic armour, with the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell saying the much-hailed long term economic plan had been an "abject failure".

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