Facing the sack, the notoriously dull chancellor has suddenly come to life. He isn’t the only new rebel Boris Johnson will have to contend withby Marie Le Conte / July 17, 2019 / Leave a comment
Sixteen years ago, Iain Duncan Smith gave his leader’s speech at Conservative Party conference. “To the prime minister I say this,” he announced to the crowd; “the quiet man is here to stay and he’s turning up the volume.”
In the end, he wasn’t and he didn’t; IDS resigned later that month, and headed back to (temporary) backbench oblivion. Meanwhile, another quiet man who had been in that fateful room was biding his time—but he is now ready to speak out.
Seen as a safe pair of hands by successive Tory leaders, Philip Hammond has managed to spend the past 21 years on the frontbench precisely because wherever he went, not much happened. Could you say anything about his record as secretary of state for defence? Foreign secretary? Dull and dour, his image eventually led to the (semi-affectionate) nickname “Spreadsheet Phil.”
Yet by the end of this month, he will be on the backbenches for the first time since 1998. Boris Johnson is the favourite to become prime minister and the two do not see eye to eye, and neither do their Brexit ambitions.
As a result, unexpected signs of life keep being spotted in those late Treasury days. Just this week, it emerged that in a speech to civil servants, Hammond said: “It has not escaped my attention that the next prime minister’s majority will be only three, and that I will be a backbencher.”
In an interview with US broadcaster CNBC, he made his intentions even clearer, warning that “if the new government tries to drive the UK over a cliff-edge called no-deal Brexit, I will do everything I can to stop that happening.” As he told Bloomberg, that could include supporting legal action. On Monday, he poured cold water on the prospect of a speedy US trade deal, despite this being a priority for the likely next occupant of No 10.
This should worry Johnson. Firstly, as political scientist Philip Cowley explains, “ex-ministers that go rogue can be a problem for governments. It’s not just that they add to the number of rebels—although with a wafer thin majority even that is currently hardly trivial—but that they lend gravitas and knowledge to any rebellions. It’s more voice than vote; an ex-chancellor…