Like marital rows, UK budgets are rarely about what they are about. There is always a deeper cause, an underlying tension, often to do with the personality of the Chancellor and his perceived inadequacy.

Philip Hammond was on notice when he rose to his feet in the House of Commons yesterday. His enemies, overwhelmingly on the Tory benches, had been sharpening their knives for months, ready to plunge them into his back as soon as he sat down. They may have wanted him to succeed, but they were also willing him to fail.

The Chancellor is a genial fellow, but not a wag. He is certainly not a man to bring the House down. But he had clearly had enough of being seen as the grey man of Downing Street and duly delivered a series of one-liners so spontaneous that they must have taken his team days to come up with.

There was the one about the cough sweets – a reference to the PM’s disastrous Conference speech, when she nearly choked on her words when seeking to offer reassurance on Brexit. No sooner were the words out of  his mouth than a box of Fisherman’s Friends (or whatever) was passed to him by a grinning Mrs May, which he placed next to the despatch box alongside his tumbler of water and the traditional glass of Scotch.

How we laughed. The Tories were beside themselves, even Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom, whose normal enigmatic smile conceals the fact that she is a sphinx without a secret. Hammond was delighted. The message was as clear as it was contrived. “See? The Prime Minister doesn’t want to sack me. We’re pals!”

On the front bench, a couple of places down from Mrs May, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – the Tories’ arch-japster – shook with every appearance of merriment, though it is hard not to believe that, mentally at least, he was running his thumb down the edge of an assassin’s blade.

Resuming his matinee performance, the Chancellor launched almost immediately into another carefully-scripted, spur-of-the-moment gag, this time in reference to Michael Gove. The Environment Secretary, had recently sought to remind the Prime Minister that if, heaven forfend, Hammond should ever fall under a bus, he knew someone – ahem! – who understood the relevant vocabulary and could take up the brief at a moment’s notice.

“This is the bit with the long, economicky words in it,” Hammond began.

Once again, Boris shook with mirth. He may even have slapped his thigh. As for Gove, he was nowhere to be seen.

And so it went on. The substance of the speech is for others to judge. It covered a lot of ground but did little to alter the topography. Brexit hung over the occasion like a skewered albatross, with its message of decelerating growth and falling productivity.

By the time Hammond drew to a close, uttering the inevitable claptrap about how everything was on course to get better in the fullness of time (though not necessarily tomorrow), the sense was that the he had just about got away with it, earning from the Prime Minister what was either a pat on the back or a consoling tap on the shoulder.

Now it was Jeremy Corbyn’s turn. The two men are chalk and cheese. If you can imagine a duet between a cello and a banjo, you’ve got the picture. The Labour leader began at a frantic pace and then turned up the heat, getting louder and louder and angrier and angrier. It was as if Alfred Doolitle, from Pygmalion, had been plied with strong liquor, ushered into the Commons and handed a megaphone. As his rant gained in intensity, interrupted only by contemptuous howls from the Tories, it was obvious that his rebuttal was not specific, still less bespoke, but generic. If the Chancellor had announced that he was now a Trot, determined to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, Corbyn would still have labelled him a disgrace, in thrall to the wealthy.

John McDonnell, as shadow Chancellor, cannot afford to make the same mistake this afternoon when he delivers Labour’s considered response to the budget. He has to be forensic as well as furious. But, if anything, as the Quiet Man of Momentum, he will be the more extreme in his judgements. Do not expect a meeting of minds across the aisle.