There is a fair amount of nonsense being talked about why Mr Hammond chose to produce such a crass budget. In particular, some of the madder politicians (on both sides of the Brexit debate) are suggesting that he was motivated by a desire to frustrate Brexit. Quite how producing a budget which was likely to infuriate so many Conservative supporters would be likely to muck up Brexit doesn’t seem to have been explained. Is it really suggested, for instance, that Mr Hammond decided to try to make the Tories as unpopular as possible so that Labour would be in with a chance of winning a snap election before the Brexit negotiations are complete? Of course that wasn’t what he was doing. Hammond, like Mrs May, is a loyalist to the Tory cause on an almost extreme level. Anyway, a great many of the Tory MPs who object to the budget are themselves convinced remainers.
No, the attack on the self-employed had absolutely nothing to do with Brexit. It came about because the Treasury’s senior civil servants despise all those frightfully common plumbers, painters and decorators, taxi drivers and small businessmen. And Mr Hammond didn’t have the political nous to understand that his own party’s supporters would be horrified by what his mandarins were proposing. They, with their gigantic salaries, entitlement to all sorts of benefits (maternity leave, paternity leave, sick pay, paid holidays, enormous pensions etc. etc.) really do think it appalling that plumbers earning vastly less than they do, and having none of those benefits, are not required to pay as much in National Insurance as they do.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this budget fiasco is the fact that Mrs May shared her Chancellor’s inability to spot that what his civil servants wanted him to do would be a major vote loser for her party. She is often compared to Margaret Thatcher. But of one thing we can be sure, Mrs Thatcher (though she got the poll tax wrong) would definitely have realised, instantly, that this attack on the self-employed would be disastrous for her party. Mrs May does have a lot to learn. We must hope that this appalling budget will be what the young call a “wake up call” for her.