Belfast Telegraph

Tory knives are out for a Chancellor who has lost the support of his party

Philip Hammond's Budget tomorrow is set to be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of his frontbench political career

It will be like a day at the circus for Chancellor Philip Hammond when he delivers his Budget tomorrow. But it will certainly not be a fun day out for him; more likely it'll be as pleasurable as balancing on a high-wire on a wobbly unicycle or facing the terrors of the knife-thrower. In short, it could be a nightmare.

Mr Hammond is far from being a popular figure in the Cabinet and his relations with the Prime Minister are said to be at a low ebb. On top of all that, he does not enjoy the confidence of swathes of Conservative backbenchers.

The knives are already out for Chancellor Philip Hammond... his Budget tomorrow could be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of his political career to date.

So, he has to tread very carefully if he is to command any real support from his own side.

One area which should be relatively uncontroversial - and which he has already half-promised to include - is to provide incentives for a large-scale increase in house building.

But this would need to be allied to further checks on immigration or else the curse of housing shortage will never go away.

He is also being pressed to remove duty on beer in an effort to stop the daily disappearance of public houses. What is more, old-age pensioners could find themselves worse off.

Meanwhile, there are the usual demands for vast increases in the resources available to the NHS, as well as to a further wide variety of public institutions.

Never before has a Chancellor of the Exchequer had to face such a terrifying balancing act.

n The Brexit talks are getting uglier by the day. And the UK's case is not helped by the unruly band of fifth-column anti-Brexiteer Tories who, many would suggest, are giving succour and comfort to the EU's flint-like team of negotiators.

Why should the UK be punished and threatened with eye-watering fines for doing what is entirely its right, namely leaving the EU? Indeed, Brussels is shamefully starting to treat the negotiations as some kind of bad joke.

When Brexit Secretary David Davis said the UK had been the only ones making concessions so far, the EU grandee Donald Tusk made this withering (or so he thought) reply: "I appreciate Mr Davis's English sense of humour."

The UK team needs to be much fiercer, with table-banging and foghorn diplomacy - that, it seems, is the only way to have any effect on these money-grabbing Eurocrats.

And it might help, too, if the Tory critics of Brexit started to honour, rather than refuted, the decision of the British people at the EU referendum.

n I can fully understand the fury - I don't think that is too strong a word - of the Scottish Labour Party's top brass at the surprise news that outgoing leader Kezia Dugdale, without a by-your-leave, is suddenly shooting off to Australia to take part in I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! It is hard to disagree with their view that Ms Dugdale's place is in the Scottish Parliament, rather than dining out on kangaroo testicles and other such delicacies in the Australian jungle.

Nor am I surprised there is already talk of suspending her from the party, although Jeremy Corbyn, to my utter astonishment, does not think that is the right course of action.

In 2012, the Conservative Party at Westminster suspended MP Nadine Dorries for taking part in the reality series, although she was reinstated the following year.

Anas Sarwar, an unsuccessful candidate to succeed Ms Dugdale as leader, has said: "Now she has made that decision, I want us to have that phone bank running to make sure that she eats every bug possible, is in the pit with the rats as much as possible, so she fully enjoys that experience and is raring to go when she comes back."

How very comradely.

Once again, the busybodies are at it, trying to interfere with the way local party committees select their parliamentary candidates.

And once again, do-gooding outsiders are assuming they know more about the candidates constituencies should choose than do the people in their own areas.

It is the Electoral Commission this time who are whingeing about the types of candidates who fought the last general election. They complain that an overwhelming majority of candidates were white and male.

"So what?" is my response to that.

The commission's survey also found people with disabilities were "under-represented" on the ballot papers and that a "staggering" 86% of those standing were white, compared to 1% each from Pakistani, Bangladeshi, black African or Caribbean heritage.

The line-up of candidates "skewed away from women and younger people", they added.

These were only a few of their criticisms. They want to see a Commons picked by quotas, in effect, numerically reflecting a mirror image of the state of the country as a whole. What rubbish.

These people want to change the way people vote, in some cases on the basis of the colour of their skin. And here was I foolishly assuming the last thing we should worry about is the ethnic origin of candidates.

A few years ago, the electorate voted overwhelmingly to retain the first-past-the-post form of parliamentary elections. But, of course, officialdom thinks it knows better than anybody else.

They should dump their nefarious plans for social engineering and do something useful instead.

Belfast Telegraph

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