Brian Monteith: Theresa May doesn’t have to be toppled by Chancellor

Chancellor Philip Hammond has been making waves in Davos, Picture: Getty Images
Chancellor Philip Hammond has been making waves in Davos, Picture: Getty Images
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The Prime Minister apart, there is no more important political position in the UK than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is not just that the Chancellor manages the public finances and pulls many levers that can dictate the direction and pace of the economy, crucially the Chancellor can set the whole tone of an administration by making people more or less optimistic about their futures and more or less confident in the ability of a government to live up to its promises.

With a positive, creative and dynamic Chancellor; one that believes there can and will be a far brighter future ahead; who can find inventive solutions to age-old problems and leave no stone unturned in communicating an upbeat message, a Prime Minister can steer the ship of state with a fair wind and a happy crew.

With an at best dull, at worst negative and even accident-prone Chancellor; one that leaves people cold and dispirited, worrying for their futures; who has no antennae for public and party concerns and therefore makes clumsy misjudements, a Prime Minister will be sailing through repeated political and economic storms with no engine, a jammed rudder and a mutinous crew.

Worse still (and yes, it can be worse), if at the same time the Prime Minister appears a rather cold fish, more a managerial technocrat than a passionate romantic, then a bright-eyed, inspiring Chancellor who can unite us and quicken our hearts with self-belief and purpose is needed desperately as a foil. Thus, when you have Theresa May as Prime Minister, who has demonstrated the art of being resolutely irresolute, the last Chancellor she, her party, or indeed the country, needs is Philip Hammond. Single-handedly in Davos the Chancellor plunged the Conservative Party back into further despair and division by calling for a “middle-way” in delivering Brexit. Breaking the PM’s demand for policy discussion to take place in Cabinet rather than through the media - set by May only the day before when reprimanding Boris Johnson for such behaviour - Hammond called on the UK to be so closely aligned with the EU, its Single Market and Customs Union that what we would end up with is Brexit In Name Only - known as Brino.

Having delivered his attack on government policy from a CBI platform at Davos and then repeated his views rather than retract them, one can only conclude the staging and wording was calculated for maximum effect to boss the PM out of ensuring “Brexit means Brexit”.

As if the open disloyalty when the PM badly needs self-discipline is not bad enough, Hammond remains a thoroughly uninspiring and dull Chancellor. That might be fine were the Prime Minister a brilliant communicator or the Chancellor sure-footed – but both are neither.

Imagine a Chancellor in No11 Downing Street who believed in the future prospects for the UK outside the EU? A Chancellor who never stopped proclaiming from the rooftops of office towers and the floors of expanding factories our improving financial indicators and growing manufacturing orders - “despite Brexit”, as the BBC’s Today programme would say.

A Chancellor who boasted that “despite Brexit” the UK’s continued European lead in financial direct investment continues; or how employment is the highest ever on record; how unemployment is at its lowest for 40 years - and how earnings are expected to overtake inflation in the spring - again all “despite Brexit”. A positive upbeat Chancellor would be laying waste to critics of the people’s decision to leave the EU and explaining how outside the restrictions of the Leviathan our opportunities would be limitless. Instead we have what appears like an embarrassed silence.

More importantly, while using Brexit to our country’s economic advantage undoubtedly requires a believer, there is nothing to stop any Chancellor bringing forward progressive open market policies that would deregulate the obstacles and reduce financial burdens on our people and their astonishing enterprise. Uninspiring Chancellors like Hammond only ever think of having a spending review when what we also need is a national taxation review that will liberate, motivate and encourage the aspiring, the socially trapped and the poor.

If capitalism is broken, as many believe it is, then why is our Chancellor not working to mend it in the full scrutiny of public debate so that everyone except the most obstinate Marxist believes he is on their side?

We need a Chancellor that recognises cutting individual taxes has gone as far as it can for now, otherwise we will risk democracy itself by having too many people paying no tax at all but voting for more spending on themselves, paid for by a diminishing pool of taxpayers, who will then seek to avoid paying anything.

Future governments must as a priority focus on reducing the VAT rate that was raised in 2010 to shore up weakened public finances, following the financial crash. Now that the government has left austerity behind by increasing its spending it should be rewarding the public for its endurance of Osborne’s hair shirt by taking VAT back down to 17.5 per cent as soon as possible.

Cutting the VAT rate is needed because it benefits the poorest most, be they low paid workers or benefit recipients, and would recognise rightly all their sacrifices made in helping to end a recession they did not cause. It would be a Tory policy for the many rather than the few, wrong-footing Jeremy Corbyn and social justice warriors in the process. It would improve the spending power of low earners and those on fixed incomes - a particular problem since the Bank of England’s QE punished savers for being prudent - and crucially send a message that a Brexit bonus will be passed on to people across the UK - and not just to the NHS.

Such policy imagination or salesmanship is beyond Philip Hammond. Without a Chancellor to fill such a job description Theresa May is beyond saving, she will face continued plotting and the public’s patience with her will evaporate. With Hammond at her side Theresa May will end up settling for any Brexit deal just for the sake of claiming she has something, anything, in the bag.

If Labour had a truly charismatic leader the Prime Minister would already be toast.

There is nothing for it, despite having had her botched reshuffle she must make the move to replace her Chancellor, otherwise she, her Party - but most importantly the country - faces a catastrophic Brexit and Corbyn victory.