I watched chancellor Philip Hammond’s spring statement for 26 long minutes this afternoon and by the end I had no recollection of anything he had said. That’s what he wanted, of course. The lack of occasion demanded speech by a man who rarely says anything of significance and Hammond stepped down to the mark. However, the whole occasion, with one or two minor exceptions, was dispiriting for other reasons.
No, I don’t mean shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s scattergun rant in alleged response or any of the subsequent contributions. It was the strange detachment from reality in the House of Commons that got me.
The brilliant comedy writer David Schneider hit the nail on the head with this tweet: “The economy is recovering, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Which is why we want to take free school meals away from a million poor kids”. Of course, he didn’t actually say the last bit but that was precisely what is going to happen.
Hammond, never one of life’s great orators, was greeting but the usual “hear hears” from the government benches and naturally his front bench grinned, laughed and, in Theresa May’s case, gurned along in support. I thought: “You don’t have a fucking clue what it’s like to be poor, do you?”
Honestly, as I saw the grinning fools on the Tory benches, I was honestly thinking about children going without a cooked meal. When Hammond made some idle pledge about reducing rough sleeping by 2028, I was thinking about the people I saw sleeping rough, especially during the recent return of winter. When Mr Speaker was ticking off MPs for making too much noise, I kept thinking about the crisis in social care, patients being kept on corridors in our overstretched hospitals and eight years of government attacks on disabled people.
There is nothing new about it. Parliament has always been like this although the Great British Public has only realised it since radio and later TV coverage was introduced. It was horrible. All sides, though not all politicians it should be said, thought it far more amusing to make political points than to actually refer to real people who were suffering. Today, of all days, I found it a most unedifying experience.
My loyal reader knows how I feel about politicians these days. Many are good people in politics for the right reason, many are bad people in politics for the wrong reasons. But the truth is that they behave as if they rule us and not that they are supposed to be there to serve us. Whether it was Hammond, the ludicrous Jacob Rees-Mogg or the seriously unpleasant John McDonnell, they behave as if they own us. Maybe some of them actually do.
This might have been great theatre but not one person will benefit from today’s glib, vacuous speech by Hammond or the many point scoring contributions that followed. A very bad day in parliament, but aren’t they all these days?