This one must be a record.
Just days after “Spreadsheet Phil” broke a long-held Tory promise not to raise national insurance in the Spring Budget, he pulled a u-turn so sharp it could have made him a contender for the Wacky Races.
It brought back such fond memories. As the business editor of the Press and Journal perhaps it is an occupational hazard to keep a mental tally of budget gaffes.
One of my favourites was in 2012 when Phil Hammond’s predecessor George Osborne announced what became known as the “pasty tax”. Plans to levy VAT at 20% on takeaway hot food caused all sorts of the best punning. Critics dubbed the move “half-baked”, while headlines asked: “Who VAT all the pies”. It forced the Cornish Pasty Association to raise a petition “Don’t Tax My Pasty”.
A few days later Mr Osborne did not one, not two but three climb downs on a similarly unpopular tax tweak on static caravans and a cap on charity donation releifs. (Called the “caravan tax” and “charity tax” respectively, because that’s how pundits roll).
The treble u-turn saw dystopian political satire become real life as then leader of the opposition Ed Milliband described Mr Osborne’s budget as being an “omni-shambles” – a word hot metal-pressed into the language by comedy series The Thick of It.
But last week’s climb down is perhaps where the laughing ends.
When the Chancellor revealed he would not proceed with the planned 2% increase in Class 4 NICs after all, it left a £2billion-shaped hole in an economy that could really use a pre-Brexit, pre-Scotref shot in the arm.
And while most thought that the “white van man tax” was a bad idea – a “squeeze on the nation’s strivers while trying to deliver a business boom”, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), it raised an issue.
This is the fear that the whole creaking UK tax system is no longer fit for purpose.
NICs and non-domestic rates, which is discussed at length in TheLunch in this month’s issue of TheBusiness, have both forced governments to do u-turns or £multi-million interventions because they are inherently unfair.
In Scotland at least former Royal Bank of Scotland man Ken Barclay – who has probably learned a few things about spotting an omnishambles or two – is undertaking a review of business rates. Hopefully when he reports this summer he will have come up with a way that makes sense and won’t see businesses have to be hit by massive swings in their tax bill every five years.
Mr Hammond too will be conducting a survey this summer to address what has been described as “big structural flaws” in the tax system. Who knows where tax grab will land.