The middle classes still do not understand the scale of the Government spending cuts about to hit them, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said today.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he warned that the coalition was going to face "some political difficulty" as people began to grasp just how hard they would be hit.
Mr Clarke, who was chancellor of the exchequer in the last Conservative government, described the current economic situation as "calamitous" and warned that there would be no "quick rebound".
"One reason we're going to get some political difficulty is that (while) the public knows we've got to do something about it, I don't think Middle England has quite taken on board the scale of the problem," he said.
"That will emerge as the cuts start coming home this year. We've got to get on with it (but) it's going to be very difficult. If someone says it's not as bad as all that, I say (they) just don't realise the calamitous position we're in.
"We're in for a long haul to get back to normality. There are so many uncertainties internationally, and I do not see a quick rebound."
Mr Clarke's gloomy prognosis is likely to alarm both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the coalition as they head for important local government and Scottish and Welsh assembly elections in May.
They come after shock figures showed that the economy shrank in the last three months of 2010, raising new fears of a possible double-dip recession.
Shadow treasury chief secretary Angela Eagle said that Mr Clarke's comments underlined the need for the Government to change its economic strategy.
"The Tory-led government may have boasted before Christmas that Britain was recovering and out of the danger zone, but their decisions have meant the economy has now stalled and both unemployment and inflation are rising," she said.
"It's time for David Cameron and George Osborne to wake up and realise their plan isn't working. They need a plan B that puts jobs and growth first and they need it quick."Reuse content