He began by reminding us that it was nearly ten years since the economic crash and we were still suffering the after effects. Yet he did nothing to prevent another one. Moreover he offered no explanation of why it had occurred. Because he doesn't have one.
Then he told us that the deficit wasn't fixed. Indeed it wasn't going to be fixed until 22-23 which is five years from now. Despite all the promises that austerity would fix the black hole it is still with us. The only thing that is different is that the Bank of England has been printing free money for almost ten years, interest rates have been negative in real terms for almost as long, and all that easy money has not been used for investment but for a surge in credit and a boom in asset values.
As many of us predicted if you print money and boost the economy during a crisis you limit the scale of it and actually limit the deficit. So Hammond was able to proudly tell us that the deficit was coming down. What he didn't tell us what that it was the Bank of England that had done this. Or that the Bank of England has chosen to fuel a dangerous credit bubble in order to offset the governments excessive drive for punishment austerity. In other words those who did nothing to create the crash are still struggling whilst those whose reckless credit gambles cause the problem in the first place have been supplied with over £400 billion of free money.
When it comes to supporting business a stable operating environment and secure markets are central. Not a word was said about the extreme risks of the Brexit gamble for business. We got a very welcome attempt to ameliorate the worst effects of an over large one year swings in business rates. Something Caroline Lucas of the Green Party lobbied hard for. But no attempt was made to even the playing field by taxing offshore companies properly and making sure business isn't lost to tax avoiding competitors. So businesses on the high street are left facing severe competition from online retailers who don't pay remotely the same level of rates on their turnover. Export businesses are left with platitudes about making the UK great again whilst we head for tariff barriers with our main market. All businesses are left with the worry of how long it will be before the explosion in credit spending that has propped up the economy bursts and what will happen when the next crash comes.
In the public sector what was offered was even more complacent. If you reduce real terms funding per head for close on a decade whilst customers get older and more challenging it is hard to run a service. Technology doesn't cut costs in health, education, prison services or care. It simply makes the job more sophisticated and expensive. So staff in schools, hospitals, prisons, police and local government have had to take the pressure of extra workloads and cuts in real incomes. The result is a huge crisis in staffing, and falls in service levels.
In this context Hammond's answer to the rise in A&E waiting lists was almost comical. He won't provide hospitals or GPs with any new money to actually treat people but he will offer £100 million for better triage in the hope that it might prove possible to reduce waiting times by sending home quickly those who don't really need much help. The patient gets a sticking plaster and so does the hospital service!
Hammond's answers to the problem of running costs reeked of complacency and cheap politics. He announced capital funding for new free schools so we can segregate more of our children into religious ghettos and subject them to the crudest method of child selection out. Instead of forming subtle and regularly changing ability groups within a school and allowing all children in the community to blossom at the thing they are good at he has chosen to inform 90% of our children that they are overall failures at the age of 11. Hardly the way to encourage aspiration.
To give him his credit he did finally get round to putting some serious money into ensuring that our technical colleges offer students the opportunity to study for longer in the week in order to reach higher standards. The first Chancellor to do anything serious for this sector in decades. It remains to be seen whether doing this by forcing everyone with an interest in technical education to study for one of 15 T levels will prove as stupid a waste of time as Ed Balls attempts to do almost exactly the same thing when he was Education Secretary and later Chancellor. Committees with industry 'representatives' rarely design very good qualifications and it takes decades for parents, children, employers and universities to value a new one. Closing all the old qualifications and betting the house on your own pet project may not be the best way to promote technical education.
Nevertheless we must be thankful for small mercies on technical education and also thankful for some small recognition of the scale of the care crisis. Because everywhere else his approach was to ignore the problem, hope it will go away, score cheap political points about how badly Labour did the job and kick the can a bit further down the road.
No wonder we have a country full of people who are deeply cynical of politicians. We all know it is difficult to balance budgets. We all know you can't spend money on everything. We all know Chancellors can't fix every problem overnight. Yet instead of admitting the scale of the challenges we face we got told the oldest politicians lie in the book. It is all the fault of the last lot and under my wise leadership it is all getting better.
Complacency in the extreme. It reminded me of listening to Gordon Brown proudly telling us that he had put an end to boom and bust. Just before we were hit by the biggest bust the global economy has ever known. It could all end even more badly.
Anyone confident that the economy has the resilience to cope with the next crash?