6 things we learned from Chancellor Philip Hammond's speech at the Conservative Party conference


Philip Hammond has spoken of how he hopes to guide the nation through the turbulence of Brexit as he addressed the Tory conference in Birmingham.

Just don't expect him to crack any jokes about it...

1. There may be trouble ahead.

Philip Hammond at the Tory Party Conference
(Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Chancellor was forced to promise that he was ready to "take whatever steps are necessary to protect this economy from turbulence". He did not specify what that would mean but hinted that fiscal policy - potentially tax cuts to help the economy - could play a role.

Bringing a cautious tone to the Government's chorus of "Brexit means Brexit and we will make a success of it", Hammond acknowledged business had serious concerns about the process. "Many businesses which trade with the EU are uncertain about what lies ahead," he said. "Business hates uncertainty."

In an effort to provide reassurance, he gave a further guarantee for businesses and organisations applying for European Union funds which extend beyond the date the UK breaks from Brussels.

2. The George Osborne era is over.

In a decisive break from George Osborne's plans, Hammond confirmed that the target of achieving a budget surplus by the end of the Parliament had been scrapped.

Hammond acknowledged that the deficit remained unsustainable, with the Government borrowing £1 in every £10 it spends, but the economic difficulties caused by Brexit required a "pragmatic approach".

While Osborne's policies to balance the books were "the right ones for that time", Hammond promised "a new plan for the new circumstances Britain faces".

3. Maybe Hammond should have been in the Treasury all along.

George Osborne and Philip Hammond in the House of Commons

The Chancellor seems happy in his post but clearly holds a grudge that he hasn't been in charge of the nation's finances since 2010.

He had been Osborne's deputy in opposition, with a reputation as the brains behind the economic operation while his boss focused on the strategic goal of getting the party into power. But when the coalition was formed, the role of chief secretary to the Treasury he had expected went to a Liberal Democrat instead.

Hammond lamented: "I don't think I am giving away any state secrets in admitting that I just might have hoped to have been a Treasury minister a little bit earlier in my political career."

4. The Chancellor is no tech expert.

We are entering the realms of science fiction, Hammond said, although he appeared confused by what it all meant.

Focusing on hi-tech industries could be key to the UK's post-Brexit future. But Hammond said: "I'll be honest with you: I had no idea until a few weeks ago just how much I don't know. And even less idea how much I wouldn't be able to understand even once it had been explained to me. But this is the future!"

As he reeled off a list of "driverless cars, graphene, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, virtual reality, advanced robotics" it was clear from the glazed looks of conference activists that they had as little idea about it all as the Chancellor.

5. Hammond doesn't think much of Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn and Philip Hammond at the state opening of Parliament
(Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Tories are the "true party for working people", apparently, because Jeremy Corbyn is in "la la land".

Hammond said under Corbyn Labour had been "deserting the middle ground of British politics in favour of the socialist ideology of the metropolitan left-wing elite". The Labour leader's £500 billion spending plan would cost every man, woman and child £7,700, he said.

The Tory plans were "a million miles away from the la la land Labour were describing" in their conference last week, Hammond said.

6. The Chancellor might not be about to headline the Comedy Store any time soon.

In a 40-minute speech delivered from notes on a lectern, Hammond sought to portray himself as a safe, steadying influence. The jokes he attempted were delivered almost apologetically.

On Strictly Come Dancing star and former shadow chancellor Ed Balls, Hammond said "his Charleston is probably better than his economic analysis" before adding that Jeremy Corbyn was the first choice for the BBC show but "he's got two left feet".