This article is from the November 2012 issue of Total Politics
The qualities held by first-rate politicians have not traditionally included behaving in the manner of a bank manager.
Ten years ago, with the telegenic, arch-communicator Tony Blair and the intense, Shakespearean figure of Gordon Brown occupying the two most powerful political positions in Britain, suggesting that someone who gives the impression of being able to handle your overdraft application could go far in politics would have had you laughed out of a conversation. And then Alistair Darling became chancellor during the most turbulent economic period in living memory. Suddenly, being a serious, stern-faced politician proved quite important.
Our cover star this month is Philip Hammond and you can find Rob Wilson’s excellent interview with the defence secretary on p54. Hammond has been described as a bank manager, but I’m pleased to say we managed to persuade him to smile. He’s known as a numbers man; stick him in a department, and the one outcome you can guarantee is that the figures will start adding up. The stereotype is that spreadsheets, budget projections and formulas get him going. The Ministry of Defence is not known as a department able to stick to budgets, and the list of hideously expensive procurement projects is as long as a defunct aircraft carrier. Yet in the year since being moved from transport following Liam Fox’s resignation, Hammond has quickly gained control.
The defence secretary is a very different political beast from his predecessor. Whereas Fox exuded emotion about the armed forces and alliances, particularly with the US, Hammond’s dry presence suggests a steady head regarding the army, RAF and navy. In these financially straightened times, is that a strength or a weakness? Does he understand the value of his stewardship? Conservative MPs, particularly your traditional Shire Tory, want to see their party in government caring for the forces. Now that the Lib Dems have abandoned the MoD for other ministerial priorities, Hammond needs to be trusted by his party colleagues. Read the interview to find out if he’s more than a numbers man, and whether his political career could take him further still.