There weren’t many jokes, but given this was a downbeat autumn statement from a chancellor with a congenital demeanour made for the poker table, it was notable that there were any at all, and that they were delivered with some aplomb.
The first came early, when Philip Hammond made fun of both his own reputation for caution and the rugby metaphor by which Boris Johnson once – correctly as it transpired – played down his chances of becoming prime minister.
“I suspect that I will prove no more adept at pulling rabbits from hats than my successor as foreign secretary has been in retrieving balls from the back of scrums,” the chancellor said to laughs, as Johnson grinned ruefully from the benches.
Perhaps more predictable was a jab aimed at Jeremy Corbyn during a section of the speech about expanding rail capacity, a reference to the fuss in August over whether the Labour leader did or did not get a seat on a train to Newcastle.
The most carefully-scripted joke came as Hammond referred to the autumn statement tradition that the shadow chancellor can make prior representations to his equivalent in government. Hammond said John McDonnell had exceeded his predecessor in the job, newly-minted dance sensation Ed Balls.
“We used to think on this side of the house that Ed Balls’ demands were an extreme example,” Hammond said. “But I have to say, the current shadow chancellor has outperformed him in the fiscal incontinence sweepstakes. What we don’t know, of course, is whether he can also dance.”
This brought laughs even from the Labour front bench, an assurance from McDonnell that he can dance and even a slightly hopeful shout of “next year!”
This article was written by Peter Walker Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 23rd November 2016 17.46 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010