Philip Hammond shoots from the hip with colleagues in the line of fire

Philip Hammond at NATO Summit Wales

With the prime minister barely even in charge of herself at the moment, it’s everyone for themselves in the cabinet right now.

A state of affairs that seems to suit Philip Hammond rather well as he no longer really seems to care that much if he stays in a job or not. On the whole, he’d rather remain chancellor – he’s vain enough to think he’s doing an OK job – but being constantly briefed against by maniac Brexiters, unbothered by wrecking the economy, did get irritating after a while.

So Freewheelin’ Phil is now choosing to shoot from the hip. Say it like it is and damn the consequences. Far better to be shot down for telling the truth than rot from the inside saying stuff he didn’t believe like Theresa May. He stifled a yawn as David TC Davies – one of the Tories’ resident village idiots – lobbed him a gentle opener at Treasury questions. Would the chancellor like to take the opportunity to say that the UK now had the best growth rate in the developed world?

As it happened, Freewheelin’ Phil wouldn’t. He treated this with the contempt it deserved. It might suit Davies to believe that everything was tickety-boo post-Brexit but he at least had bothered to look at the data and had seen that Britain was down in 19th place. Out of 20. Only Brazil was beneath us. So if it was all the same, he’d pass on that question. The economy was in reasonable shape, considering. Considering that it wasn’t really.

Realising the chancellor was playing his own private game of kiss and tell, the Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, chose to ask if there was any truth in Sajid Javid’s suggestion the previous weekend that the government was about to go on a £50bn housebuilding binge. Freewheelin’ Phil smirked. Absolutely none. The communities minister had just been doing a bit of freelance government. But as long as he was chancellor, Sajid wouldn’t be seeing a penny. If he wanted to build more homes he could find the money himself.

Freewheelin’ Phil decided to take a breather. He’d done enough damage for the time being and it was time to let Liz Truss have a go. Not that the chief secretary to the Treasury would intentionally go rogue; it was more that she seldom managed to get through a session at the dispatch box without screwing up.

Sure enough, Truss first managed to suggest that depressing private sector pay increases had been all part of a cunning plan to narrow the gap between private and public sector pay, before going on to blame the need for wage restraint on the last government. It’s a worry when a cabinet minister is too dim to remember she was a member of the last government. Andrea Leadsom and Chris Grayling now have stiff competition for the lowest IQ in the cabinet.

Still, at least Truss still has enough sense to know when something is well above her pay grade and when the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, inquired about the progress of a transitional Brexit deal she quickly sat down to let her boss take centre stage once more. Freewheelin’ Phil sighed heavily. It was difficult, he said. The prime minister hadn’t been at all well recently. The only people she really trusted right now were her Belgian pot plants, and they were having a bit of a meltdown as they couldn’t cope with her neediness and were refusing to speak anything but Flemish.

So he didn’t want to kick Theresa when she was down. He really didn’t. But what he could say that a transitional deal was “urgent and pressing” and he was hopeful that some vague principles of a vague transitional deal might be reached before this time next year. The EU was making preparations to make preparations to progress the process. Which was progress towards progress. “We need to give business the certainty it needs,” he said, being careful to give it as little certainty as possible.

McDonnell went on to ask the government to rule out a no-deal Brexit. Freewheelin’ Phil held out his hands. If it was down to him, he’d be only too happy to oblige. But the Maybot was malfunctioning and all her operators were running riot. To be honest, anything could happen. With luck there would be a deal. But don’t blame him if everything went belly up.

“Does the chancellor share my frustration at the fact that since the EU referendum, a number of senior politicians have been talking down the economy?” asked the frustrated Brexiter Peter Bone. He didn’t. Not for a minute. And he would continue to talk it down for just so long as halfwits like Bone were determined to drive it on to the rocks.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by John Crace, for The Guardian on Tuesday 24th October 2017 18.26 Europe/London

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