LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May has declined to confirm that she will keep Philip Hammond as her finance minister if she wins the June 8 national election, leading to speculation about who from her Conservative Party might replace him.
But should the opposition Labour Party pull off a shock victory, the next chancellor of the exchequer will be a fan of Karl Marx who has promised to renationalise public utilities and increase taxes on high earners and business.
Whoever occupies Number 11 Downing Street after the election will play a key role in negotiations to leave the European Union, as the finance ministry is responsible for Britain’s huge financial services industry.
He or she will also have to steer the world’s fifth-biggest economy through years of uncertainty about Brexit and its impact on trade and investment in Britain.
Following is a summary of the possible next incumbents of the second most powerful post in Britain’s government.
PHILIP HAMMOND - In the job for less than a year, Hammond may yet keep the role. But there have been signs of strains between him and May. Their relationship has been more distant than the one between his predecessor George Osborne and former prime minister David Cameron. Hammond, who has cultivated a reputation for being diligent at the risk of being dull, suffered the embarrassment of having to drop a plan to raise social security tax for self-employed workers when Conservative Party lawmakers protested that it broke promises to voters. Hammond has also annoyed many Conservatives who favour a clean break with the EU by stressing the need for a Brexit deal that allows companies to keep on hiring the migrant workers they need. In terms of fiscal policy, Hammond has slowed the push to turn Britain’s budget deficit into a surplus but he is wary about significantly relaxing the government’s grip on spending or cutting taxes. “So the extent of fiscal easing could increase, should he be replaced,” Marco Cecchi, a fund manager with Pioneer Investments, said.
AMBER RUDD - After a prodigious rise through the ranks of the Conservative Party that culminated with May promoting her to interior minister last year, Rudd has emerged as something of a deputy prime minister during the election campaign. The former JP Morgan banker and venture capitalist stood in for the prime minister in a prime time television debate among party leaders on Wednesday, further raising her profile and adding to speculation that she could become Britain’s first female finance minister in a post-election cabinet reshuffle. Rudd was a leading campaigner for the Remain camp ahead of last year’s EU referendum. She said in April that a bigger Conservative majority after Thursday’s election would give May the “opportunity to arrive at potential compromises within the EU.” May quickly denied she would try to negotiate a so-called soft Brexit. Rudd angered business leaders in October when she raised the prospect of requiring companies to list the number of foreign workers they employ, an idea that was quickly shelved.
GREG CLARK - Clark was made Britain’s business minister - including the job of devising a new but as yet still vague industrial strategy - by May last year. He has experience of the pressures of the finance ministry having served as a junior minister responsible for working with Britain’s huge financial services industry. A Cambridge-educated economist with a doctorate from the London School of Economics, Clark played a key role in the Conservatives’ election promise to cap tariffs charged by power utilities, which represented a shift away from the party’s traditionally pro-market approach.
MICHAEL FALLON - Currently defence minister, Fallon is a veteran lawmaker who entered parliament in 1983, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, and is considered to be on the right wing of the Conservative Party. The Sunday Telegraph once quoted a colleague as saying Fallon was “able to put forward an unashamedly Thatcherite agenda while looking like your favourite kindly uncle.” Despite declaring himself a eurosceptic, Fallon campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU last year, saying Brexit would be bad for security. In a former role, as business minister, Fallon oversaw the privatisation of Britain’s Royal Mail postal system.
DAMIAN GREEN - Green studied with May at Oxford University and he was her campaign manager when she ran for the leadership of the Conservative Party last year. She made him pensions minister after her victory. He was a supporter of the Remain campaign ahead of the Brexit vote and he told the Observer newspaper last month that any deal would involve give as well as take: “No negotiation has ever succeeded without an element of compromise and no compromise ever satisfies everyone 100 percent.”
JOHN MCDONNELL - If the Labour Party confounds the opinion polls and wins the election, McDonnell will be Britain’s most left-wing finance minister since the years immediately after World War Two. The former trade union official wants to renationalise Britain’s public utilities and the railways. He also supports public ownership of Britain’s banks although that proposal was not included in Labour’s pre-election policy proposals. McDonnell, a close ally of the party’s radical left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn, has promised to eliminate Britain’s deficit in day-to-day spending - excluding investment spending - within five years. Under the plan, the richest 5 percent of households would pay more income tax and corporation tax would be raised to 26 percent rather than fall to 17 percent as planned by the Conservatives. McDonnell, when asked by the BBC last month if he was a Marxist, said: “Well I’ll tell you - I believe there is a lot to learn from reading (Das) Kapital.”
Additional reporting by Jamie McGeever and William James; Editing by Toby Chopra