PHILIP Hammond’s party conference speech was unashamedly pro-business. The question is why it has taken the Chancellor so long to speak his mind.
Strangely sidelined in last year’s election when the economy was one of the central issues, it shows the extent to which the Government has been sidetracked by Brexit.
This was self-evident in Mr Hammond’s various interviews in which he revealed his contempt for Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary, who he accused of being unable to do “grown-up politics” – a view shared by a surprising number of activists.
And while the Chancellor believes that technological change, rather than Brexit, will come to define this period in economic history, the latest forecasts suggest, ominously, that growth will not top two per cent for each of the next five years. In this regard, it’s important that Mr Hammond shows far greater ambition when he delivers his next Budget at the end of this month, a setpiece speech brought forward to avoid any clashes with Brexit.
Though he has to plan for a ‘no deal’ scenario, and appears to have been doing so, he would be advised to heed the advice of Rotherham-born Justine Greening, the former Education Secretary, who wants social justice put at the heart of the tax system so the Government can “reconnect with people’s lives”.
Rather than tinkering over apprenticeship funding, it’s the type of new thinking that the country needs if it is to withstand Brexit and show that the Tories are still a party of opportunity.