Budget more stand-up comedy than serious economics, says shadow chancellor


Labour has accused Philip Hammond of abandoning serious economics for stand-up comedy after he surprised MPs with a Budget statement peppered with jokes.

Ditching his usually dry and sober speaking style, the Chancellor provoked waves of laughter with self-deprecating quips about his boring image and attacks on Labour as a "driverless vehicle".

But his humorous approach to a statement which raised National Insurance contributions for 2.5 million self-employed workers was not universally appreciated.

The Daily Mail showed a picture of Mr Hammond smiling on its front page under the headline No Laughing Matter, while the Daily Mirror captioned a picture of Theresa May enjoying one of the Chancellor's jokes What's So Funny, Prime Minister?

And shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: "I want a Chancellor to be in charge of our economy not a stand-up comedian."

Describing some of Mr Hammond's jibes at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as "nasty", Mr McDonnell told BBC1's Breakfast: "Yesterday was not the day - when you are inflicting suffering on people by raising National Insurance, you are not addressing the NHS crisis, you are not tackling the problems we have in social care. It was not a day for jokes like that.

"It was more stand-up than it was serious economics."

Mr Hammond gave credit to his Treasury team for the unexpected stream of jokes in Wednesday's statement to the Commons, revealing that they got together for an eve-of-Budget meeting to work out how to liven up the 56-minute speech.

Asked on LBC Radio who was responsible for the jokes, Mr Hammond said: "My team. We sat round the table, some civil servants, some special advisers, myself, on Tuesday evening.

"We said let's try and liven it up a bit, let's see if there are any little bits of humour we can inject into it."

But he did not answer presenter Nick Ferrari's question of whether he saw himself as a comedian more in the mould of Les Dawson or Jack Dee, replying only: "I'll leave that for you to judge. You've seen me in action before. That's your call."

Here are some of Mr Hammond's Budget jokes:

:: On being known as "Spreadsheet Phil":

"This is the spreadsheet bit, but bear with me because I have a reputation to defend."

:: On meeting the EU's target of keeping borrowing below 3% of GDP:

"I won't hold my breath ... for my congratulatory letter from (European Commission president) Jean-Claude Juncker."

:: On the "last" Labour government:

"Under the last Labour government corporation tax was 28% - by the way they don't call it the last Labour government for nothing."

:: On Jeremy Corbyn:

"The Right Honourable Gentleman opposite ... is now so far down a black hole that even Stephen Hawking has disowned him."

:: On being the second chancellor, after Lord (Norman) Lamont, to announce that he was scrapping spring Budgets:

"Ten weeks later he was sacked. So wish me luck."

:: On the Labour Party leadership:

"Driverless vehicles - a technology I believe the party opposite knows something about."