Well, grey faced and grey charactered Philip Hammond has delivered what is said to be the last budget before Brexit. As usual, before the event, the pundits were speculating grandly about what it might contain, not least in the much publicised 'end of austerity' pledge made by Mrs May during the Tory conference.
So are we really surprised that the real budget has turned out to be more theatrical than substantive ? Whilst the government have talked up the vast array of new public spending gleaned from Mr Hammond's 'windfall saving' of £11.5 billion in reduced borrowing (reduced borrowing !!!! The government seem to forget that the national debt is way over £2 trillion and at a record level of 85% of GDP.....grrrr.) Trying to make a rosy story by saying that borrowing is reduced is farcical by any measure - we have governance by the selective interpretation of statistics...'lies, damned lies and statistics !' But the seriousness of this is that all the so called improvements to the lot of the poor in particular are really quite false - favour given with one hand to be taken away again by cuts elsewhere with the other. Even extra money's promised for other worthy projects - the NHS, defence, infrastructure, etc - is only a re-affirmation of promises already made, very little is new. The picture this paints is one of despair, confusion and an almost uncanny denial about the real country we live in. There will be beneficiaries from this budget, but they will tend to be those who least merit such benefit - such is the warped vision of 'the British people' that the government seem to believe in.
All this, of course, re-ignites that much favoured topic of 'Will she or won't she be toppled for the Tory leadership and ultimately the premiership ?' Speculation continues with abandon - from hacks, politico's, academics, statisticians and countless others. That she will be toppled seems pretty certain unless she can pull some magical Brexit deal off that placates both sides of the debate - that would appear to be her only hope of salvation. But the odds of that happening are remote in the extreme. Yet the potential usurpers, they who would seek the political crown, are quiet. Their profile has sunk so low below the parapet that BB can only assume they are all engaged in some master plot being contrived in utter secrecy. I cannot believe that they have just melted away. Something is brewing. Something is happening behind closed doors waiting for that propitious moment of declaration. My bones are twitching with expectation, of something almost radical, mind-changing and the launch of new political discourse and governance rather than a continuance of the stale and much eroded 'real politik'. Am I bonkers to imagine this might be coming ? Possibly. But let's wait and see.
Perhaps understandably, the rest of the news is torpid and sensationalist. Mrs Merkel has announced she will step-down from the leadership of the CDU but will still perform as Chancellor until 2022. This will be a shock for those Brussels bureaucrats who have come to rely upon Germany's guilt complex to bail them out of difficult financial and social conundrums. But as she ceases to wield the economic and political power across Germany that she has become famous for, Europe will tremble at the knowledge that more right-wing factions will fill the void. Macron, in France, might smile at the prospect of his own elevation to becoming Europe's most influential premier but he also needs to keep an eye on his back as further right-wing factions increase their regional influence across ancient Gaul. They should not forget the legacy of the ancient but most persistent hero of France, Vercingetorix, the epitomy of the right-wing demi-god.
So Europe is in just as much a mess as we are, we might imagine. Politically, yes, constitutionally, yes, and socially, getting towards yes. Brexit has lit a fuse. Another fuse has been lit by Trumpy and his desire to pull back on previous NATO obligations and demand a more equitable sharing of the defence costs of Europe. He knows Russia is stirring, will become more mischievous as time goes by but will trample Europe first before it is able to aspire to world supremacy. Neither the US nor China will allow that last action but in the interim European leaders are beginning to feel Putin's frosty breath on their necks - Europe, as ever, will be the inevitable chessboard upon which the outcomes will be decided. Let us hope that Brussels can eventually concede that continued defence, security and technological collaboration is still worthwhile with Britain, whatever the outcome of Brexit. Let us hope that if Mr Hammond remains in post that he will find more than £500 million to boost the UK's defence capability...