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Box Office Phil

philiphammond

[photo from government website]

Hammond’s ironic nickname is because his boring interviews are guaranteed not to contain unpleasant surprises, witness this extract from his recent Conference speech:

Successful negotiation with the EU27 will demand patience, experience, meticulous planning and steely resolution. And I know of no-one better-equipped to lead us through those negotiations than our brilliant new Prime Minister, Theresa May. And we should approach that negotiation with self-confidence.

For those who have failed to notice him entirely over the last few years, here are the basics:

b 4 Dec 1995 (60)
Shenfield School (local state school in Essex, now an Academy). 1st in PPE University College, Oxford.
1977-83 Speywood Medical Ltd, a small medical equipment company, long since taken over.
17 Jan 1984 set up Castlemead Ltd (reg no. 01783537), a housebuilding company. Its main subsidiary appears to be Castlemead Group Ltd (reg no. 02985505) inc 1 Nov 1994, 2/3 owned. Its most recent accounts showed turnover down to £10M and £0.75M loss. Castlemead Ltd is now owned by a trust, presumably for Hammond’s benefit – the standard device for claiming that a member of the government has no influence over a commercial company which he owns.
He also seems to have made a significant income from consulting work before entering Parliament.

An article in the New Statesman in 2009 claimed he was worth £9M, £5M of which was Castlemead. There does not appear to be enough information yet in the public domain to assess what Castlemead is worth today (if anything).

chairman Lewisham East Cons Assoc 1989-96
Elected 1997 (newly created) Runnymed & Weybridge, majority 9875
1997: Hague made him front bench spokesman for Health
2001: Duncan Smith moved him to Trade & Industry
2002: Howard moved him to Local Government
2005: [post election] Howard promoted him to shadow Chief Sec
2005: Cameron moved him to Work & Pensions
2007: [when Brown became PM] Cameron moved him to Chief Sec
2010: [post election] SoS Transport
2011: [post Liam Fox resignation] SoS Defence
2014: Foreign Sec
2016: May moved him to Chancellor

I have just wasted an hour trying to find out rather more about him than the bare bones above, with precious little success. I could find nothing that might give me some insight. His Conference speech was loyal, but fairly dull and uninformative.

Curiously, Anthony Hilton, the long-standing Evening Standard business columnist in the Evening Standard, whom I quite like, found much to criticise in Hammond’s Conference speech. His article yesterday was headed:

Phil’s six impossible things to do before Brexit

tilfordreport

Hilton’s first point was to quote some data from a recent report by Simon Tilford (its deputy director) for the Centre for European Reform ( pdf ). The CER is a think-tank founded 20 years ago, broadly pro-EU, which appeared to campaign for Remain. Tilford (an economist formerly with the Economist and Nomura) claims that whilst the UK’s GDP growth appears better than other leading European countries:

gdp1

that is because we are looking at GDP in local currency (in 2010 prices). But the pound has fallen over the period since 2000 from about 1.6 Euros to 1.14 Euros

poundeurorate2000-oct2016

If one adjusts for that, and indeed goes further using “purchasing power exchange rates”, then one gets a different result

gdp2

I think I mainly come away thinking that this kind of comparison is tricky, but that we seem to have done better than Italy and Spain recently, and not too much worse than Germany. I certainly cannot see much reason to share Hilton’s gloom about the UK’s growth prospects outside the EU.

He is obviously correct to dismiss Hammond’s

We will do it by making the British economy the most outward-looking, most dynamic, most competitive, high wage, high skilled, low tax economy in the world” as hype. His comments on UK productivity require a whole article to analyse properly.

as hype, and I agree with him that the thorny subject of the UK’s productivity requires a full article, but then he has a canard about all our best (academic) researchers will be leaving because of worries about losing their EU research grants. The government has already indicated that it will essentially made good those grants post-Brexit from UK funds.

He then worries that many Silicon Roundabout entrepreneurs are immigrants but they would no longer be allowed in under a points-based system. That is obviously a reasonable concern, but we are way off getting that kind of detail about future immigration policy agreed. The domestic pressure for less immigration is hardly coming from high-tech areas in London, it is coming from depressed Northern towns in low-tech or old-tech areas.

Hilton then went on at some length about the housing shortage and the difficulty of dealing with it. I agree, but it is hard to complain about Hammond’s passing praise for one of his colleagues getting started in that area. Finally, Hilton complains:

Sixth was a statement breath-taking it its audacity from a Chancellor and a government about to embark on the biggest and potentially most reckless economic gamble this country as ever seen. “Conservatives … carry the burden of ensuring that Labour can never again wreck the British economy”.

I find that a revealing complaint. Surely democrats have to take democracy seriously. Hilton may spend his time hobnobbing with overpaid businessmen who would rather not face the challenges of leaving the EU, but the electorate decisively decided that was what it wanted. Fighting a rearguard action to reverse the decision is not helpful. What we need now is to make Brexit as successful as we can.

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