We must be grateful for small mercies. At least he will be saying some of the right things. I very much doubt whether he will be doing many of them.
It is not entirely surprising that May and her Chancellor have both noticed the extent of the unhappiness in some of the most neglected communities of the UK. They only have to study the voting figures in the UK referendum to spot that a lot of people in Dudley, Stoke on Trent, and Sunderland are not entirely content. But what will be fascinating will be to listen to Hammond try and deal with some of those problems without distancing himself too much from the intellectual legacies of his party.
The first problem for him is that what he needs to say is that what the regions need is a serious and sustained programme of investment. That costs money and his party have spent the last 6 years telling us that we had to have austerity. What does he say to us now? He can't say the budgets are balanced because we still have a huge gap between government revenue and expenditure and a growing national debt. He could say that the best way for a government to help an economy recover is to invest wisely for the future. But how then does he explain why they didn't start doing it 6 years ago? He is unlikely to go for the Trump solution. Pretend that budgets don't matter and just promise everyone a huge increase in spending along with cuts in income tax and bet the house on a recovery arriving before you crash and burn. So he could simply re-iterate the mantra of austerity and continue to impose it on the poor. Not exactly the ideal way to help deprived communities.
Hard as the choice of unpalatable alternatives will be for him it doesn't even begin to equal the challenges he faces over the second, and most enduring of his intellectual legacy problems. For the past 40 years the Conservative Party has defined itself as the party that believed in extreme free market economics. Thatcher made her name by refusing to provide state support for declining industries, dumping government regional policies, removing all meaningful controls over the finance sector and selling off council houses. It is going to be hard for a Chancellor to stand up and say that if this ever was a helpful approach to solving Britain's problems then those days are long gone.
It is now clear that he cannot solve the UK's most significant problemss without serious government intervention into the marketplace. Take housing for example. For 6 years his government have tried to dodge this reality by putting forward initiatives that might be acceptable to a Thatcherite such as supporting first time buyers by giving them money towards their deposit on a home. All those initiatives have achieved have been to waste taxpayers' money on putting up the price of houses. At the same time his government has also tried to increase house building by making more land available to developers, scrapping green belt regulations and letting builders bypass planning rules. What that has achieved is to increase the profit margins of developers whilst seeing the supply of affordable homes fall to historic lows. They have utterly failed to increase the supply of homes. Bizarrely Hammond appears determined to announce that he wishes to fix these problems by offering developers large amounts of tax payers money to develop difficult and hard to let sites. Some building companies will be clever enough to take his money for doing what they planned to do anyway but this won't remotely get the necessary small and affordable homes built. The only organisations around that would actually build for need and do so relatively quickly are housing association and local councils. Is Hammond capable of recognising that a Conservative government needs to start building council houses? Will May let him do so? Will pigs fly?
He has similar problems with regional policy. It should be relatively easy for a Chancellor to announce serious plans to invest in proper connected transport infrastructure for the north of England, and to announce investment incentives to develop new modern industries in neglected areas. Since wage costs are low and there are plenty of highly skilled people happy to work outside of London many businesses will be very keen to go along with him. But this requires a policy of conscious state planning of the economy. It needs the state to decide that it wants to deliberately engineer the kind of business development the country that the country needs and decide where it wants them located. Can a modern Conservative get that policy accepted by the party? Osborne resolved this difficulty by talking a lot about a northern powerhouse but not actually spending any serious money. Hammond may well opt for the same policy of lots of sound bites but no real shift of resources. One critical test of Wednesday's budget will be whether in future government investment plans the people of the English regions will get anywhere near equal investment per head of population as London. That simply won't happen.
The final big intellectual difficulty for Hammond will centre on what he chooses to invest in. Thatcher tried to teach us all that it was no good throwing good government money after bad in desperate attempts to prop up out of date industry. Unfortunately what her policies resulted in was an economy that became over dependant on poorly regulated banks and on North Sea Oil. Much of the death of the regional working class heartlands took place directly as a result of Thatcher's policies. As it happens I think Thatcher was making one very good point. You can't stop the march of technology & shore up a passing industry. Unfortunately she missed one other very important point. If you are going to let mining and heavy industry collapse then you need to invest in providing alternative employment for the communities that used to rely on the factories and mines.
I would love to see Hammond stand up and say that he is going to invest in the next phase of science, technology and business and locate centres of excellence in Barnsley, Middlesbrough and the Rhonda valleys. I would love to hear his proposals for making sure that it is the UK that is the leader in modern low energy use business. I fear instead that we are going to see Hammond and May do exactly what Thatcher said they shouldn't do - shore up an old and out of date industry. I think we'll get fracking for oil and gas and incentives to drill for more North Sea oil and gas not incentives to kick start solar energy and energy conservation companies.
If politics was simply a spectator sport then it might be amusing to watch how Hammond wriggles out of his ideological inheritance whilst desperately trying to extract the maximum propaganda valley from the few helpful things he does. In reality politics has a huge impact on people's lives. It will not be pleasant to see him fail to provide any kind of realistic strategy to properly help British industry because he is trapped within the severe limits of all that out of date ideological baggage