'These have been difficult time,' Mr Heseltine said. 'I cannot remember so profound or prolonged a recession.
'The manifestations are familiar to each one of us. The dole queue, the bankruptcies, the anguish, the misery.
'Every day there is someone, some event, to remind us how fragile our assumptions often are. For our critics it is open season.'
Mr Heseltine warned that 'fair-weather friends' had long since gone. But he said that new opportunity - 'not yet for all, not yet in every industry or every company' - was daily more evident.
The President of the Board of Trade avoided dwelling on the vexed subject of manufacturing decline, the topic that sparked a flurry of denials of remarks made by the Prime Minister in his recent Independent interview. He emphasised instead the record stock market levels, rising confidence and low inflation.
But he repeated his warning that there was no 'cost-free option' of saving the 31 doomed coal mines. After posing a series of possible solutions, but no answers, he said: 'A job saved in one industry can too easily be a job lost in another.'
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