Conservative MPs have rallied behind Philip Hammond after his long-awaited Autumn Budget.
Despite having to admit to a number of economic downgrades, the chancellor put a brave face on things and managed more than a few jokes including a cough sweet gag with the Prime Minister, a dig at Cabinet colleague Michael Gove for his “long economicky words” and a reference to former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale’s appearance on I’m a Celebrity.
And his announcements were well received by Tory backbenchers – even in the face of the Office for Budget Responsibility’s criticism of his flagship stamp duty promise.
Robert Halfon told City A.M. “He’s gone from Eeyore to Tigger. He was brilliant today, I’ve never seen him like that, and it was a well-crafted Budget on the whole.”
The Harlow MP said he was “delighted” by the fuel duty freeze – which he had campaigned for – as well as some of the welfare announcements such as universal credit and £28m to tackle homelessness. On housing he said Hammond had been “more radical” than expected.
He added: “It was a ‘direction of travel’ Budget… it was a good start. They will have to [address] green belt reform in the future, but today was about going in the right direction.”
James Cleverly agreed that housing would require more work, including a “pragmatic” reconsidering of the green belt, but said today’s announcements would “have a very significant and positive impact for people trying to get onto the housing ladder”.
The MP for Braintree similarly backed Hammond’s future after today, saying he “did not look like a man hanging onto his career by his fingernails”.
“Money is still very tight so he was never going to pull great big rabbits out of hats [but] amongst colleagues it’s gone down very well and it’s a Budget that will be very easy to explain to constituents,” he said. “It’s going to be a long slog [to win back the youth vote], and we have to do it by proving we are listening. It won’t happen in one, two or even probably three Budgets. But if we get it right it will have started by the next General Election.”
Nicky Morgan said the Budget had helped reset the party’s agenda, which had faltered since the disastrous election campaign and lacklustre party conference.
Hammond's performance had been “pretty solid” and he had not put forward anything that “might have a problem”, the Loughborough MP added. “He has taken a common-sense approach, with a welcome emphasis on issues beyond Brexit."
And Morgan, who is also the chair of the Treasury select committee, said hi stamp duty measures were “the right response to that demand” – adding that she would grill the OBR over their analysis of its impact on house prices when they come before her committee next week.