If there is to be a reshuffle before the budget, expect it to happen next Monday. I’m not saying there will definitely be one next week, but if the Chancellor is to feature in it, surely it couldn’t happen within a month of the budget. Again, I’m not saying the Chancellor will feature in it, but surely any new Chancellor would need to have a month before the budget to read him/herself into the job. Downing Street is staying tight-lipped about any possible reshuffle and quite right too. I know for a fact that at the end of last week no decision had been made one way or the other on whether it would happen now, or be put off. If the PM emerges from the EU summit with any sort of victory, she’d be in a good place to carry out as extensive a reshuffle as she’d like, but let’s face it, the odds on the EU saying anything positive to help her are not great.
Back to the fortunes of Philip Hammond. There’s no doubt that he had a pretty awful week last week. It was almost as if he was deliberately trying to wind up Brexiteers with his message of gloom and doom and dismissal of proper preparations for a ‘no deal’ scenario. Clearly someone had a word and by the end of last week Hammond was backtracking like the Lord Chancellor at the State Opening of Parliament. And then he undid it all with his ‘enemies’ comment. It may have been massively overinterpreted by the media, but it was further proof that we have a Chancellor who’s not especially good at politics. It’s often said that Theresa May is one disaster away from being toppled, but the question is: do we have a Chancellor who is one move away from being sacked?
On Monday the papers were full of two further policy wheezes by the Chancellor, both ostensibly designed to persuade young people that the Tories hadn’t forgotten them. The first was clearly briefed to George Osborne over lunch last week and appeared on the front page of Monday’s Evening Standard. Apparently young people are going to be getting a cut in stamp duty. Given that stamp duty is a form of licensed robbery, few would disagree with a cut, but all it will do is add to house price inflation, which rather defeats the object. The second idea is to cut pension tax relief for older workers and cut national insurance for the under 30s. Has Philip Hammond learned nothing from the election campaign? You don’t help younger people by penalising older people. All the polls show that younger people react very badly against such policies, not to mention older Conservative voters. Perhaps it was just a bit of policy kite flying. Let’s hope so.
I do apologise if I have been somewhat omnipresent on your TV screens lately. It won’t happen again. Well, probably not.
Talking of being on TV, last Friday night I was a guest on ITV’s new current affairs show, the very unimaginatively named ‘After the News’. It’s on, well, after the New at Ten’ and hosted on alternate nights by LBC’s Nick Ferrari and 5Live’s Emma Barnett. It’s a very simple format – two guests from opposing standpoints plus a look at the next day’s papers. Someone described it as ‘Newsnight’ without the reports or interviews, which was probably meant to be unkind, but there is something in that. It’s certainly not an innovative format, but its beauty is its simplicity. It’s beating ‘Newsnight’ in audience numbers, but it does have the advantage of inheriting a sizeable audience from ‘News at Ten’. The test for ITV will be whether to extend its initial five week run. It’s about time ITV went back to providing more for its viewers who are interested in politics and current affairs.
Talking of ITV current affairs shows, ‘Peston on Sunday’ is about the only proper political programme on the channel. Peston gets good guests but it’s a very clunky format, as he has to keep wandering from ‘Croissant corner’ to his big desk interviews. And if he introduces the programme one more time with the word ‘Wotcha’, I’ll want to deck him. On what planet does a presenter of a political interview programme think it appropriate do that? Peston has a book out soon called ‘WTF’. There’s a pattern developing here… I’m interviewing him about it at the beginning of November so I think I’ll ask him about it!