THE most telling moment in Philip Hammond’s Budget speech arrived just short of an hour in, after he scrapped stamp duty for first-time buyers on properties up to £300,000. The Tory benches erupted with cries of “More, more!” in anticipation of bigger rabbits following this one out of the hat.

But that was it. Show over. A minute later the Chancellor sat down, his statement on the nation’s finances over. From Spreadsheet Phil to Spread Thin Phil.

To paraphrase that now infamous note from a departing Labour Treasury minister to his Tory successor, it is not that there is no money left. Mr Hammond, defying his reputation, splashed the cash. Besides the stamp duty goodie there was an extra £2.8 billion for the NHS in England and a £3bn bone thrown to the hard Brexiters to ensure the UK was “prepared for every possible outcome” including, though he did not utter the words, the possibility that the UK would leave the EU without a deal.

This was, then, a giveaway Budget. But when set beside the huge difficulties that lie ahead it was mere tinkering at the margins.

One set of figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility, the independent watchdog that runs the rule over the public finances, shows where the trouble lies. Every year for the next five years, growth will be lower than previously forecast. Figures that were already modest have become even more so. Come 2019, the year of Brexit, the economy will grow by 1.3 per cent instead of a forecast 1.7 per cent, and the same again a year later, before inching slightly upwards to 1.5 per cent in 2021 (downgraded from two per cent).

In short, at a time of great uncertainty, with productivity remaining “stubbornly flat” (the Chancellor’s words), and borrowing set to climb higher, UK growth will be where it is at present, bumping along the bottom compared to other G7 countries. So much for the Brexit bounce.

But what of the fate of this least Tiggerish of chancellors? Has he done enough to save his job? Before he stood up, it was widely thought, not least among his fellow Conservatives, that Mr Hammond had to go big or go home. Be bold, visionary, show the country and his boss he has what it takes to shape the British economy into a lean, mean, globally trading machine in time for Brexit. It would not do to take the opposite tack, go small and roll himself into a ball, the better to hibernate his way through the wintry criticism of Brexiters. That would only postpone the day of his dismissal, not remove it.

In the event, Mr Hammond was more confident than he has seemed in some time. Never the most charismatic of politicians (his other nickname, aside from Spreadsheet Phil, is Box Office Phil), he took his speech at a run, even managing to crowbar in a couple of amusing lines, and made it over the finishing line while the cheers from the benches behind still hung in the air.

On first impressions it was a success, if only because his last Budget in March, complete with his plan to increase National Insurance Contributions (NIC) for the self-employed, was such a galloping disaster. Mr Hammond initially proved himself tin-eared to criticism that he was penalising the kind of hard-working, enterprising folk on whom the British economy (and many a Tory MP seat) depends. The NIC increase was eventually scrapped, but the Government soon showed it had learned nothing. After his tin-eared Budget came a Conservative General Election manifesto that showed the party was still not listening, either to older voters horrified by what critics labelled the dementia tax, or to younger voters who were offered little to nothing.

On the strength of yesterday’s Budget, Mr Hammond is now in listening mode. But to whom is he listening? Not the vast majority of people whose wages have stood still for a decade, or fallen, while the cost of living has risen. Not those hoping for a clear end to austerity. And certainly not those hoping for answers as to how Brexit will play out.

On that latter point, Mr Hammond chose to once again go so far and no further, saying that Britain was at a “turning point”. That much we have known since the EU referendum result. The public would like to know what is around the corner, and on that point the Chancellor had no further information, and chose not to speculate, despite calling Brexit “one of the defining challenges” ahead.

Once again, he was tinkering at the edges instead of wading into the fray. We know he has a view on what a good Brexit versus a bad Brexit looks like, but in a government so split on the matter he dare not express it lest he incur even more Brexiter wrath than he already does.

From Spreadsheet Phil to Spread Thin Phil to Thus Far and No Further Phil. Given those alarming growth forecasts, Mr Hammond needed a great budget. What he delivered instead was a budget just good enough to keep him in a job.