The stage was set for the dreariest budget in years, with the chancellor hamstrung between battling party colleagues simultaneously demanding an economically draining hard Brexit, a bonanza of tax breaks and support for limping public services.
Never mind the purse strings being tight: Hammond’s reputation as dull bureaucrat Spreadsheet Phil meant everything was pointing towards an undramatic speech.
But it seemed a much-vaunted challenge for his job from Aberdeen’s ambitious Michael Gove had injected some pep.
Just before unveiling bitterly disappointing growth forecast cuts, Hammond threw a jibe Mr Gove’s way, explaining this was “the bit with the long economicky words in it” – the very description witnesses gave of Gove’s incursions onto Treasury territory at the Cabinet table.
And, mocking the Theresa May’s catastrophic conference speech which she was nearly forced to abandon, Hammond told the Commons he had taken the precaution of bringing some cough sweets – which the PM duly handed over. What a stunt.
Clearly on a roll, he even cracked a gag about Scottish Labour’s former leader going on I’m a Celebrity: “There’ll be plenty of others joining Kezia Dugdale in saying ‘I’m Labour, get me out of here’.”
He was so busy letting his hair down he was “tempted” to reintroduce the tradition of the chancellor delivering the budget with a glass of something boozy to sip on… but then stuck to water.
Party Phil had arrived and he was here to spread some cheer, wishing the Deputy Speaker a Happy Christmas as he announced a freeze on booze duty.
With some elation, Hammond announced he would help the two-thirds of 25-34 year olds who couldn’t afford to buy a house by freezing stamp duty and the House roared in approval.
It was just a shame his balloons were popped by the killjoys at the OBR explaining his surprise would likely make things worse by inflating house prices.
Never mind, Phil, there’s always the celebration for Brexit Day to look forward to.