The Chancellor’s National Insurance blunder may prove the costliest of his life. Peter Bingle is left wondering whether ‘Spreadsheet Phil’s’ instincts for self-preservation are stronger than his obstinate logicality? 

I hope the Chancellor moves quickly to withdraw a policy which may otherwise prove to be his political death warrant. Are his instincts for self-preservation stronger than his obstinate logicality? We will know very shortly …

How can somebody as smart as Philip Hammond have been so stupid? Last week’s Budget was supposed to be low key and dull. A holding statement rather like an uninspired intermezzo, a prelude to the big event in November.

In all aspects but one the Chancellor achieved his objective of dullness. Unfortunately, by breaking one of the key Tory general election promises not to raise taxes until 2020 the Chancellor made the biggest mistake of his life. A mistake so momentous and stupid that his political stature has literally been destroyed. The likelihood of his career surviving the National Insurance blunder looks slight!

I often wonder how ministers allow stupid political blunders to happen. Are their special advisers and senior officials stupid? In the main I don’t think so. Are ministers lazy and unable to understand their brief? Again, in the main I don’t think so although we could all name some unbelievably hopeless ministers. So why does it happen?

The problem with Philip Hammond is quite straightforward. He is perhaps too clever and definitely too logical. This explains his announcement on national insurance for drivers of white vans in all those key constituencies. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have any instinctive feel for this crucial group of voters, all the more amazing as they almost all vote Tory. This explains the furious reaction of so many Tory MPs within minutes of the Chancellor sitting down. They understood immediately the potential damage that this proposal could cause them in their constituencies.

What must be most worrying for ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ as he reads his daily summary of news coverage is the venom of the informal briefings which appear to be spewing out of Number 10. The knives are clearly being sharpened …

Disputes between the occupants of Numbers 10 & 11 are fairly common. The man love between Dave and George was atypical, the more so as it contrasted so vividly with the bitterness of the Blair & Brown years. What must worry the Chancellor is the icy brutality of Theresa May. She doesn’t take prisoners.

There were many times when Tony Blair could have fired or moved Gordon Brown. His key advisers were desperate for him to do so but he resisted their advice. There was a very strong case for Dave to sack George after his ‘omni-shambles’ Budget. He stayed loyal to his old chum.

Theresa May is different. When she entered Number 10 she showed a ruthlessness and brutality in her treatment of the likes of George Osborne and Michael Gove which genuinely shocked many seasoned commentators. Her sacking of ‘Hezza’ showed that her brutal instincts have not mellowed. This is why the Chancellor is now so vulnerable. He could be despatched to the knackers yard and the PM wouldn’t lose a minute’s sleep!

There is that wonderful scene in the Rise & Fall of Reginald Perrin when his clothes are left on the beach and there is no sign of Reggie. I hope the Chancellor moves quickly to withdraw a policy which may otherwise prove to be his political death warrant. Are his instincts for self-preservation stronger than his obstinate logicality? We will know very shortly …

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