The Guardian
Nicholas Watt

Britain is facing “arguably the worst” economic downturn in 60 years which will be “more profound and long-lasting” than people had expected, Alistair Darling, the chancellor, tells the Guardian today.

In the government’s gravest assessment of the economy, which follows a warning from a Bank of England policymaker that 2 million people could be out of work by Christmas, Darling admits he had no idea how serious the credit crunch would become.

His language is much starker than the tone adopted by the prime minister[…]

The chancellor, who says that Labour faces its toughest challenge in a generation, admits that Brown and the cabinet are partly to blame for Labour’s woes because they have “patently” failed to explain the party’s central mission to the country, leaving voters “pissed off”.

In a candid interview in today’s Guardian Weekend magazine, Darling warns that the economic times faced by Britain and the rest of the world “are arguably the worst they’ve been in 60 years”. To deepen the sense of gloom, he adds: “And I think it’s going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought.”

Darling was given a personal taste of the austere climate when ticked off by a waiter for ordering a second bottle of wine during a meal with his wife, Maggie, and another couple. “The waiter came over and said ‘too much wine’ in a loud voice. So we stuck to one bottle for the entire meal.”

Darling admits that he was recently challenged at a petrol station by a motorist struggling with the rising cost of petrol. “I was at a filling station recently and a chap said: ‘I know it’s to do with oil prices – but what are you going to do about it?’ People think, well surely you can do something, you are responsible – so of course it reflects on me.”

Darling does not name names, but says some people want his job and have been trying to undermine him.

The chancellor’s remarks about the economy – in an interview conducted over two days at his family croft on the Isle of Lewis – highlight the nerves at the top of the government[…]

Darling, who speaks about how the prime minister is one of his oldest friends in politics, admits Brown has struggled to connect with voters. Asked whether Brown can communicate Labour’s mission, he says: “Yes, I do think he can.”

Asked why Brown has not done so, Darling falters as he says: “Er, well. Well, it’s always difficult, you know … But Gordon in September, up to party conference, has got the opportunity to do that. And he will do that. It’s absolutely imperative.”

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