AS an interjection it was more Glasgow Empire than Gladstone, less of a Churchillian barb than a cheap but effective shot. Just as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, was attempting to wax lyrically on 1962, the last time a Budget had been delivered on a Monday, a voice from the Labour benches boomed: “ OH GERRONWITHIT!”

Even as the minutes ticked by and the hour mark came and went, one began to wonder why Mr Hammond had bothered with this Budget at all. He had major announcements to make, on the abolition of PFI and a tax on digital companies to name but two, but these could have been delivered at any time.

As a result, he sounded less like a Chancellor delivering a coherent Budget than a politician filling time before the main event. For once, we do not mean the next Tory leadership contest. The main event, the only event, last month, next month, and for the foreseeable future, is Brexit.

When he did refer to the UK exiting the EU on March 29 next year it was to say he was putting slightly more money into the pot to deal with contingencies. The only nod to the enormity of what will soon be taking place was when he referred to the possibility of upgrading next year’s Spring Statement to a “full fiscal event” if necessary.

In other words, should the UK look like it will crash out of the EU without a deal – good, bad, or middling – Mr Hammond may have to revise his plans entirely. How he squares this with promises that the spending increases announced yesterday will go ahead regardless of the Brexit deal is difficult to see. A no deal Brexit will change everything, utterly.

Why, then, was Mr Hammond, and before him Theresa May, the Prime Minister, so keen to frame this as an end of austerity Budget? Mrs May had shown the way in her party conference speech when she said austerity “is” over. Mr Hammond preferred to cast things slightly further into the future, saying austerity was coming to an end. Beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, both were sending a message that after a decade of thorny times, a rosier era lay ahead.

For those living with the consequences of austerity, all this talk of consigning the policy to history will seem like a joke in the poorest of taste. Such has been the extent of the cuts in public spending and the lack of real, consistent growth in wages, that it could take a generation at least until people are back to the position they were in ten years ago. Those at the sharp end of benefit changes and public spending cuts, happening here and now, have every right to wonder why anyone should be talking about an end to austerity when they are living with its effects day in, day out.

Looked at from a different angle, this Budget did have clear aim. Its first, and least important purpose, was to show the Chancellor was still alive and well. For Mr Hammond, who has had more of a no profile lately than a low one, this was his chance to show that he remains a force to be reckoned with should the party war between hard Brexiters and Remainers take a turn for the even nastier. This week’s Budget has allowed Mr Hammond to present himself as a man with a plan and this Government as an administration working towards an orderly and successful Brexit. The message to Conservative MPs is clear: do not wreck this. Stop fighting for a deal that is not there to be had, work with us on Brexit, and all of this economic bounty can be ours. More spending with no need for tax rises, the impossible made possible due to healthy economic growth, the kind that only a soft landing Brexit can achieve.

Much rests on Mr Hammond’s growth hopes. Yet even with forecasts revised slightly upwards, UK growth remains modest. The Chancellor spoke yesterday of a “jobs miracle”. What he really needs is a productivity miracle and this Budget does nothing to bring that about.

But that is long-term thinking, and if this Budget was anything it was a short-term fix, one designed to keep the warring Tory tribes together for fear that something worse will come along: a Labour Government. Mr Hammond had a lot to offer there too, however. He spoke of the Prime Minister stealing a couple of rabbits out of his hat by announcing money for the NHS and a continued freeze on fuel duty. Just as she had “borrowed” from him, so Mr Hammond reached into Labour’s policy pocket and helped himself to a pledge to abolish the Private Finance Initiative and introduce a tax on digital behemoths. The most daring theft of all was declaring an end to austerity. If the Conservatives can do all that and maintain fiscal discipline, why would anyone want to take a chance of Labour getting into power?

Mr Hammond sat down yesterday with the cheers of Tory backbenchers ringing in his ears. He clearly does not believe the old saw about Budgets that are received well initially becoming the ones that soon fall apart. He is right to be confident, because in the cold light of day this will seem like a Budget written on the air, a statement laced with promises and predictions that might come true, and might not. If they do not, Mr Hammond will escape blame. It is enough, from his point of view, to point the way to the sunlit uplands. How the country gets there is down to others. He has done his bit.

He passes the parcel back to Mrs May and the music plays on, a little tinnier than before.