Autumn Budget 2017: Pressure piles on chancellor Philip Hammond to boost the Tories, save his own job and keep Theresa May in place

 
Catherine Neilan
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Is Spreadsheet Phil readying a boring Budget in the hope he can (Source: Getty)

Philip Hammond is facing one of the most challenging days since he became chancellor: unveil a radical, game-changing, vote-winning Budget with enough gimmes to appeal to the youth, while not spending money he doesn't have or putting up taxes and alienating the party's core voter.

He must tread a tightrope today - one misstep either way and it could be curtains for him and possibly add to the number of no confidence letters demanding Theresa May resign. As of a fortnight ago, the 1922 committee chair Graham Brady was just eight short of the total needed to trigger a leadership contest.

If the Budget goes down like a lead balloon that number could well rise by the end of today. MPs have told City A.M. that today is "crucial" for taking up the opportunity missed at this autumn's party conference - to "reset" the party and rebuild support after a disastrous election campaign that left May without an outright majority.

And Cabinet colleagues have made no secret of the fact they are after Hammond's job. Michael Gove, with his "long economicky words", Boris Johnson with his longer, no doubt Latin words, and many, many others will lose no time if he falters today.

So just what has Hammond got to tackle?

With all the talk of a housing crisis, it's unlikely that property won't be addressed. Most likely it will be in favour of first-time buyers - but once again, landlords are likely to be picking up the brunt of any costs. Here's a full breakdown of what we expect to see on housing.

From what has been trailed so far we know that there'll be some funding for driverless cars, AI and other tech innovation. Combined with help for first-time buyers and pledges to tackle student fees, it could be one of the more millennial friendly Budgets in recent history.

There is of course, the small matter of funding Brexit. Already it has been allocated £250m, and already departments such as HMRC are saying they will need more to deal with the planning, let alone the small matter of a divorce bill in the tens of billions. Leaving aside the cash, Hammond will need to win over the Brexiteers who are gunning for him by talking the country up, after being criticised for his "Eeyoreish" attitude in recent months.

But so far there doesn't seem to be much in the way of radical thinking. In fact, Treasury has already played down suggestions that there could be anything of that nature in today's statement and the trails releases so far have hardly set the world alight. In fact, so dull was the first extract put out by Hammond's team yesterday, it provoked a last-minute intervention by Number 10, City A.M. understands.

Spreadsheet Phil wants to focus on the nuts and bolts of economic growth, and given his financial constraints there is most likely little he can do.

But the party will hope for something they can take back to their constituencies as proof that the Conservatives are listening - or else this could be the final straw for May's vulnerable government.

If that happens, given his increasingly strained relationship with the Prime Minister, the first casualty will be Hammond himself.

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