Britain's economic circumstances "are arguably the worst they've been in 60 years," and they are going to get worse, the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, said last night. In a sombre assessment of Labour's predicament, Mr Darling appeared to give the Government a deadline of one year to turn itself around in front of an electorate that is "pissed off". He added: "We've got our work cut out."
Asked about speculation that others in the Cabinet may take his job – from Ed Balls, the Children's minister, to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, whom some Brown advisers have argued should be "locked into loyalty" at the Treasury, Mr Darling said: "There's lots of people who'd like to do my job. And no doubt... actively trying to do it."
He downplayed the Government's chances of reviving the economy, despite plans by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to spearhead an economic recovery plan next week. "I think it's going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought," he said.
"This coming 12 months will be the most difficult 12 months the Labour party has had in a generation, quite frankly... We've got to rediscover that zeal which won three elections, and that is a huge problem for us at the moment. People are pissed off with us."
The comments, in an interview with The Guardian, are likely to dismay those around No 10 who briefed this month that Mr Brown thinks the economy can improve within six months.
Mr Darling moved to scotch speculation of an imminent reshuffle – expected to form part of Mr Brown's autumn fight back – saying: "Frankly, if you had a reshuffle just now, I think the public would say, 'Who are they anyway?' You name me a reshuffle that ever made a difference to a government, actually... I'm not expecting one imminently. I do not think there will be a reshuffle."
Asked about all the negative coverage of Mr Brown, of whom the Chancellor is a longtime ally, Mr Darling said: "We're grown-ups, but no one likes to read nasty things about their friends".
Reacting to the interview last night, Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat's spokesman on the Treasury, accused the Government of "lurching from one extreme to another". He said: "one minute it was insisting there was no problem, but it was now talking about apocalypse now and a return to the Great Depression".
He accused Mr Darling of trying to shock the public so the Government would get the credit if the economy did not deteriorate as much as he was suggesting. Mr Cable described the interview as a "scarcely concealed attack on Gordon Brown" by "a very angry man".
In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Darling also said Cherie Blair's memoirs were "awful".
He went out of his way to deny the Treasury was behind briefings to the tabloid press that a stamp duty "holiday" would form part of this autumn's economic package. In an indication that No 10, not 11, may have been behind the story, Mr Darling said: "We weren't the ones who leaked it."Reuse content