Listeners to the Today programme would have heard a Tory minister repeating two words over and over again. So far, so normal. Only this time it wasn’t “strong” or “stable”, but “tittle tattle”.
That was the line the Tories were spinning when the Times last week published a detailed account of a “series of clashes over policy and presentation” between Chancellor Philip Hammond and Theresa May and her team.
And that was the line Hammond was sticking to when asked about the bust-up on Downing Street by Today presenter John Humphrys.
But he couldn’t keep up the non-denial denial when pressed and finally admitted that he has “occasionally sworn” at the PM’s people.
Here’s the transcript of the exchange:
John Humphrys: One other thing you might or might not be happy to talk about and that is the clashes that have been reported between you and TM’s aides.
Philip Hammond: This is tittle tattle. I don’t recognise any of it. This is media tittle tattle.
JH: The Times reports specific detail about…there was a lot of swearing and angry phone cals between you and Mrs [May’s] aides, particularly Nick Timothy. Just made up? None of it true?
PH: Theresa has a strong team, I work very closely with them, this is tittle tattle.
JH: You’re not denying the swearing and angry phone calls I notice – you’re saying tittle tattle over and over again but you’re not actually denying it.
PH: I’m not going to say I’ve never occasionally sworn but I work extremely well and closely with Theresa May’s team, extremely closely with Theresa. We’ve got a huge job to do here and we’re getting on with the job together a team.
JH: A bit of tittle tattle but a wee bit of truth in it as well.
PH: No, it’s tittle tattle.
This is what some of Westminster’s most senior political journalists made of his comments:
On claims of a feud between Philip Hammond and Theresa May's team, the Chancellor says: "I'm not going to say I never swear." IT'S WAR!!!
— Kevin Schofield (@PolhomeEditor) May 17, 2017
@RobDotHutton At no point did he deny the reports. In fact the translation of his response is rather closer to "these reports are bang on"
— Isabel Hardman (@IsabelHardman) May 17, 2017
Hammond doesn't deny angry phone calls with No10 aides: "Theresa has a strong team..I’m not going to say I’ve occasionally never sworn"
— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) May 17, 2017
Hammond won’t have to keep the charade up for much longer. Scrapbook reported last week on rumours that he is going to be replaced as Chancellor by Home Secretary Amber Rudd if the Tories win the general election.