When the advance notices of the Budget bill it as the most boring for generations, expectations tend to be low. At first it seemed those expectations – unlike the Tory National Insurance manifesto commitments – would be well and truly met.
Philip Hammond’s turgid delivery made chancellors of the past seem charismatic in comparison. As eyelids grew heavier and yawns were stifled, one almost yearned for the brio of Gordon Brown, the dash of Alistair Darling or the unbridled vivacity of Norman Lamont.
But then Spreadsheet Phil attempted to lighten the load by cracking a couple of jokes – the first at his own expense.
As he recited a series of impenetrable numbers and economic forecasts, the Chancellor announced: “This is the spreadsheet bit … but bear with me because I have a reputation.”
Having ticked off his first jocular offering on his spreadsheet of witticisms, Hammond tried the next one. This time the butt of his joke was the Labour leader and the fact that he had been labelled a “disaster” by Britain’s leading authority on life, the universe and everything.
“Jeremy Corbyn is now so far down the black hole that Stephen Hawking has disowned him,” chortled Hammond.
Corbyn sat impassively as the Chancellor opened fire again. Announcing cash for self-driving cars, Hammond quipped: “The party opposite knows something about the technology of driverless vehicles.”
The Chancellor then indulged himself by attempting to goad the SNP. As he announced £350 million for Scotland, Hammond waved his arms to try to get the SNP to cheer.
But the SNP MPs stayed silent as the chamber rang out to Tory jeers and Scottish Secretary David Mundell licked his lips.