AN early general election? I suspect the prospects of that course of action - which has been strongly urged on the Prime Minister by many of her supporters - have possibly been irretrievably scuppered by Chancellor Philip Hammond’s crass Budget decision to dishonour a manifesto pledge by increasing National Insurance on the self-employed.

He says, with just possibly some justification, that this move is only fair because it puts the self-employed on a par with those not self-employed.

But breaking an election promise is the last thing any politician should do unless he is looking for a savage political assault on his integrity from all quarters, including many of his own Tory colleagues.

If Hammond thought he would get away with this, he is even more naive than he appeared at the despatch box on Budget Day - and that is saying something.

And it is inexplicable to me that his outrageous proposal was not picked up by his Cabinet colleagues, when he unfolded the Budget’s contents on the day before he delivered it. It has now emerged that the Cabinet may not have been comprehensively briefed on the Budget’s contents - which is another scandal.

A little levity in a Budget is not a bad thing, but Hammond should have concentrated more on the needs of the economy and the importance of his integrity, than on his jokes.

It is not an exaggeration to say this monumental blunder may have damaged the Tories’ general election prospects. It has almost certainly affected the timing of the election.

David Cameron has, without exaggeration, I think, described what happened as “stupid” and “just mad”. While one of Hammond’s predecessors, Lord (Norman) Lamont has denounced the Chancellor as a rookie.

Hammond has been known as “spreadsheet Phil”. Now that famous spreadsheet is disfigured by dollops of political blood which will require hours of hard scrubbing if it is to be pristine again.

l SO here we have a situation where the Government is caught with its trousers around its ankles and in a state of utter disarray - and how does HM Opposition react? It launches a completely unnecessary internal storm about Scottish independence!

To mix the metaphor, is Labour simply incapable of recognising a gaping open goal when they see one?

Corbyn has not only succeeded in stirring up unnecessary trouble among some of his Westminster colleagues, but he seems to have flouted the views of the Scottish Labour Party which is dead against it. What a cock-up!

Corbyn has been denounced from his own back-benches for his “idiocy” and various other uncomplimentary epithets.

It is said Governments need a strong Opposition, but Theresa May must be thankful that this one cannot apparently see beyond its nose.