This article was first published on Comment Central –
Some men are born to lead, some men are born to follow and some men like to pretend to be leaders when they should be following. Philip Hammond appears to fall in to the latter category. Unfortunately for those of us who reside in Great Britain he is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, holding a key role in the Cabinet and casting an all too pervasive influence over The Government’s Brexit policy.
Philip Hammond’s speech at the Conservative Party conference outlined his shortcomings as a key leading member of the Cabinet. As James Forsyth noted in The Spectator, Hammond’s speech focusing on the housing market and the anger young people feel at the extreme difficulty of getting on the first rung of the property ladder, was spot on.
It was spot on in identifying what is very likely to be the defining issue of this generation. It was severely lacking, however, in offering any solutions to the problem. Indeed, Hammond directed most of his speech to attacking the left-wing policies proposed by Labour to address the issue. Of course Hammond was right to criticise these polices – they are woeful – but he offered nothing in the way of his own solutions going forward.
This brings us to his undue influence on Brexit negotiations. In the Brexit context we see his fundamental flaw manifest itself in the same way. He is far more concerned with how wrong everyone else’s approach is – Boris Johnson’s in particular – than putting forward truly valuable insights and ideas, which would maximise the benefits leaving the European Union will afford the UK.
His main motivating mantra seems to be maintaining the status quo for as long as possible, under the naive belief it will minimise his misguided belief Brexit is set to deliver ‘inevitable’ damage will wreak on our country. This is the wrong mentality for someone occupying a prime role in the Government.
Even if it were true that Brexit would cause damage to the UK economy the best way to approach the situation would still be to outline a vision and maximise the opportunities presented, rather than this neurotic obsession with minimising uncertainty and disruption.
A measure of uncertainty and disruption is an inevitable short term occurrence of large scale institutional change, and cannot be avoided. Philip Hammond’s attitude is one which is reminiscent of those in government during the post-war years before Thatcher. Hammond’s attitude seems to be one of managed decline.
What we need is a vision, a confidence, a view of Brexit of which is largely being provided (for the time being) only by the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. The British people are not pessimistic about Brexit. Indeed, a recent ONS survey found the overall population is happier since the EU Referendum.
As John Maynard Keynes – one of the most influential economists of the 20th century – aptly noted in 1936 ‘animal spirits’ play a decisive role in the direction of an economy. The British people are optimistic about Brexit and they should be! Opportunities abound. What we need is a Cabinet which reflects this optimism and is committed to capitalising on the opportunities it presents.
Philip Hammond rightly pointed out, no one is unsackable, but perhaps it is not Boris Johnson at whom this quip should be aimed! Once we Get Britain Out of the EU we need a visionary and optimistic Government. Philip Hammond is currently one of the Cabinet’s biggest drains on these two key traits.
Jack Tagholm-Child is a Research Executive at cross-party grassroots campaign Get Britain Out