‘What on earth was Darling talking about?’ – media ask
What about the 27 percent inflation and 12 percent unemployment rates the country endured during the 1970s and 1980s, they ask?
The country has not been forced to go to the IMF, cap in hand, as it did in 1976, nor is it 1992 and another Black Wednesday, leader writers point out in Monday’s newspapers.
The problem seemed to be compounded when Alistair Darling was then forced to explain in a series of TV interviews that he was talking about severity of current economic conditions — the global credit crunch and rising commodities prices — rather than predicting a great depression.
“The pity is that the public doesn’t know what to believe or who to trust,” the Daily Mail says.
Darling also frets in the Guardian article on the weekend about the state of the Labour Party, saying the cabinet was partly to blame for its recent electoral woes and poor showing in the opinion polls because it has “patently” failed to explain the party’s central mission to the country.
Was Darling then being honest or foolish, newspaper editorials ask.
One thing it seems certain about is that his comments were “astonishing” and in danger of “over exaggeration”, the Mail adds.
“Instead of talking our economy up — as Chancellors traditionally do in time of trouble — he talked it down, undermining confidence even further,” the Daily Mail says in an editorial on Monday.
The Financial Times believes Darling has his priorities the wrong way around.
“On the economy, his prognosis is too bleak. On Labour, his prognosis is nowhere near bleak enough.
“The government will only make matters worse politically and economically if it overreacts to the downturn.”
It adds: “His precise meaning has been in dispute but it would certainly be nonsense to suggest the UK faces the worst downturn in six decades.”
The Daily Telegraph believes it “shatters the myth that Labour’s stewardship has created economic stability”.
Anatole Kaletsky, writing in the The Times, says Darling has got his figures wrong: “On closer inspection, the Chancellor’s reputation for frankness makes his political blunder worse, since it reveals a flaw more serious than deviousness: basic ignorance of economic facts and figures.
“This is a failing that the minister responsible for national finances can never live down.”
He adds: “There is no way of messaging the facts and figures to make his statement even half-right. Despite all the headlines about a credit crunch, financial conditions are also relatively benign.
“What on earth, then, was Mr Darling talking about?”
The Daily Mail said his comments “seem over the top”.
“As to why, we can only guess. Trying to distance himself from Gordon Brown perhaps?”
Kaletsky adds: “Suppose, then, that the Treasury decides to spin his comments not as a description of what has already happened but as a prediction that Britain will suffer its worst economic crisis since 1948 in the year or two ahead.
“If this was what Mr Darling meant, will anybody believe any economic forecast he presents in his next Budget if this is less than catastrophic?
“And if Mr Darling does present a catastrophic forecast in a pre-election Budget, what will this do to Gordon Brown’s chances of survival?
“These questions can yield only one answer: the next Budget will be presented by a new Chancellor.”