Chancellor Philip Hammond “has long sought to guard his privacy by appearing less interesting than he really is”, says Andrew Gimson on Conservative Home. He has advanced his political career by depicting himself as the “reassuringly boring” choice. But that “pretence of dullness is becoming harder to sustain”. Take the “shocking revelation” that our apparently buttoned-up chancellor was once a teenage goth who used to arrive in class in a leather trench coat looking “like Johnny Depp in his pomp”.
The world owes this information to Richard Madeley of Richard and Judy fame, who was at Shenfield High School in Essex with Hammond in the 1970s. It indicates a racier side to Hammond that is also reflected in his swash-buckling business career. As his long-standing friend and business partner Lord Moynihan observes: “He always saw the opportunity. He was never not thinking about how to make money.” There were plenty of turkeys, but Hammond wound up making millions and is now one of the richest individuals in the Cabinet.
The son of a civil engineer, Hammond, 60, grew up in a modest semi in Billericay and cut his teeth “running discos for teenagers in church halls”, says the FT. He graduated to buying and selling Ford cars from the nearby Dagenham plant, arriving in 1974 at Oxford – where he had won a scholarship to read PPE at University College – in a shiny new model.
Failing to land a job in the City after Oxford, Hammond joined Speywood, a conglomerate spanning food production, medical devices and audiovisual equipment hire. The business was ailing and, in 1980 aged 24, Hammond staged an audacious coup, persuading Barclays to back his plan to buy the medical devices arm, and all its liabilities, for £1. But Hammond couldn’t make a go of it. After a six-year struggle he sold out and liquidated the holding company paying unsecured creditors just 12.75p in the pound. By then, however, he already had several other promising irons in the fire.
The 1990s saw Hammond combine his growing political ambition with buccaneering business success. He teamed up with Moynihan at CMA, an energy consulting group which exploited Moynihan’s own experience in government to win a series of lucrative international deals; and he made a second fortune with the builder Castlemead, having spotted, in the technical detail of forthcoming healthcare reforms, a money-spinning opportunity to build doctors’ surgeries.
Renowned for his “bone-dry views” on the economy, “the Treasury has always been Hammond’s goal”, says The Independent. But it’s time he showed his true colours, says Allister Heath in The Daily Telegraph. A “radical” response to the opportunities thrown up by Brexit and the “pro-growth shift in Washington” under Trump is crucial. Hammond should ditch his “ultra-cautious”, “lugubrious” political persona. Britain needs him to “rediscover his risk-taking instincts”.