FISCAL PHIL: Corbyn in Power? It'd Be like Turning off Britain's Lights; and I Did NOT Switch Allegiance to 'PM' Boris with a 4am Text!

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), October 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

FISCAL PHIL: Corbyn in Power? It'd Be like Turning off Britain's Lights; and I Did NOT Switch Allegiance to 'PM' Boris with a 4am Text!


Byline: Geordie Greig and Simon Walters

PHILIP HAMMOND is sitting in No11 Downing Street beneath a Cubist painting by CRW Nevinson, best known for bleak portrayals of the First World War inspired by his traumatic experience of treating wounded soldiers.

If the Chancellor is to be believed, Britain's industrial landscape would be left in a bleak condition if Jeremy Corbyn got into power.

'It would be like a switch turning off the lights in Britain,' he declares, echoing the famous Sun newspaper headline when Neil Kinnock seemed to be on the verge of winning the 1992 Election.

Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell pose an even greater threat to the economy, says Mr Hammond. 'They want Marxist solutions that don't work. They are a clear and present danger.' Our interview with the Chancellor on Friday came two days after Corbyn appeared to use the Labour conference to rehabilitate the long-discredited economics of pre-Thatcher 1970s Britain.

Normally mild-mannered, Mr Hammond watched Corbyn's speech on television spluttering with rage and indignation. 'To delude a new generation with the fantasy that we can solve these problems with the tired, hackneyed answers of the 1970s is a cynical delusion.' When Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson won his second election in 1974, 18-year-old Essex boy Hammond was on his first day at Oxford University and watched it on TV in the Junior Common Room.

'Britain was grim, a miserable, desolate sort of place,' he says. 'Everything was going wrong. We were slipping behind - losing the race, far behind our European neighbours - and we knew it.' Voters fooled by Corbyn into thinking they would be better off with a return to 1970s-style Labour socialism need a wakeup call, he says. Inflation was 29 per cent in Wilson's Britain - '29 per cent!' he repeats - and would be even higher in Corbyn's Britain. Another grim fact is that Mr Hammond bears some of the blame for the Election fiasco: Tory MPs say he was among those who urged timid Theresa to do it. Mr Hammond won't say but stresses he had nothing to with the 'dementia tax' fiasco.

'To drop something like that into a manifesto, launched without any sort of preparation of public opinion, was a mistake.' So why do it? 'I can't answer that. I wasn't in control of the process,' he replies pointedly, a coded reference to Mrs May's powerful former chief of staff Nick Timothy.

Timothy reputedly called Hammond a '****' and Hammond - or one of his aides - is said to have regarded Timothy as 'economically illiterate.' Hammond says his relations with Mrs May have been transformed since the Election. 'She has changed the way she operates her office, is more accessible to colleagues, more engaged - an altogether better way of doing government.' He means she fired Timothy, whom he loathed.

Hammond replies with deadly understatement: 'That was not a symmetrical relationship: I was largely indifferent to Nick Timothy; he apparently wasn't that keen on me.' Ouch. Hammond's allies say he blamed Timothy for keeping him on the sidelines during the Election campaign. 'We did not argue the strengths of our economy or make the case,' he protests.

The Tories may have dropped the 'dementia tax' like a hot brick in the Election. But, according to Hammond, it cannot be ignored for ever.

'We cannot give unconditional support to a relatively wealthy older generation at the expense of a younger generation increasingly excluded from asset ownership.' But it had to be done in a less 'threatening' way that did not cause panic - as the manifesto 'dementia tax' bombshell did.

With Mr Timothy out of the way, most of Mr Hammond's Tory tussles have been with Boris Johnson over Brexit. Hammond favours a 'soft Brexit' with a flexible transition. …

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FISCAL PHIL: Corbyn in Power? It'd Be like Turning off Britain's Lights; and I Did NOT Switch Allegiance to 'PM' Boris with a 4am Text!
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