It is the casual dismissal that startles. When the Chancellor Philip Hammond was challenged by Emily Maitlis on Newsnight about the levels of poverty faced by people in Britain, he dismissed the idea out of hand.
“I reject the idea,” he said. Not much room for misinterpretation there. But, just in case that was not hammered hard enough, Phil hammered more. When it was suggested that the UN report into the state we’re in said that 14 million people in Britain face dire poverty, he said: “I don’t accept the UN rapporteur’s report at all.”
Still not clear? It’s “a nonsense”, added Hammer Hammond. And just for good luck, the kicker – “look around you, that is not what we see in this country”.
If you wanted to show the remoteness of the elected few from those they are in power to serve, that line did it. It’s the argument used by climate change deniers, the I-don’t-see-it-round-my-way argument, therefore it can’t happen. Which makes acts of faith and belief in God a tricky one to reconcile. It’s very close to the fake news dismissal, a way of swatting away uncomfortable truths, if they don’t stack up for you, by damning them as untrue. It allows people to contradict themselves, and then claim a shadowy conspiracy is moving against their reality and YOUR reality.
It’s incredible to see Philip Hammond, frequently put forward as one of senior cabinet’s most even-handed and sensible players, operate in this way, like a character in a CP Snow novel – urbane, Oxbridge, high-handed, remote, clubby.
The signs of rising poverty are so evident it makes you wonder what reality Hammond inhabits. Very close to Hammond’s home on Downing Street, all the way from Victoria up to The Strand, rough sleeping is impossible to miss. So that argument falls.