In today's Autumn Budget, chancellor Philip Hammond doesn’t need to blow us away

 
Christian May
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Hammond put the finishing touches to his speech last night (Source: Getty)

Train carriages and Tubes will be buzzing this morning as people find themselves unable to contain their anticipation.

Instead of the respectful silence with which commuters normally treat each other, conversation and debate will burst forth as the nation braces itself for Philip Hammond’s Budget.

Across the country, around breakfast tables and water coolers, the question will be asked: what’s he got in store? The fever-pitch speculation of recent weeks will peak as Hammond clears his throat and stands to address MPs. A nation watches. Or does it? The playful scenario outlined in the opening lines of this page is about as far removed from reality as it’s possible to get.

Read more: Thoughts ahead of the Budget

In Westminster, the Budget is an exciting day. In the City, it’s an important one. Indeed, across the country – in the fullness of time – policy changes matter. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think that anything other than a minority of people (concentrated in SW1) will be analysing Hammond’s speech for every conceivable political nuance.

Will he infuriate the Brexiters? Will he do enough to secure his position in cabinet? Will Michael Gove replace him? Will he stumble over his lines? What colour tie will he wear? It is traditional in the media to present routine events as ‘make or break’ situations. Will he pull a rabbit out of the hat? What’s the big reveal?

Well, maybe there isn’t one. Maybe there doesn’t need to be. Maybe the thing the country needs most right now is some honesty, some pragmatism and some clarity.

Read more: When, where and how to watch the 2017 Autumn Budget

The deficit is still too large, as the government continues to spend much more than it generates in taxes.

Productivity is stubbornly low, so the government may identify areas or projects for increased investment. The housing market leaves too many behind, so there might be reforms to the supply side.

The labour market is changing, and ministers ought to be alive to the implications. Business investment is a little jittery, so maybe the Treasury can generate confidence.

These are the things that matter, now and in the long term. Hammond’s relative standing in the Cabinet is of little consequence to most people and of almost no consequence to Britain’s future economic prospects. Good luck today, chancellor, but keep it simple.

Read more: We need a Budget that enables departments to plan for Brexit

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