In defence of Alistair Darling
I don't want to support or oppose the Chancellor in the substantive claims he made in his now notorious weekend Guardian interview. It's no longer my job to have a view on such matters as whether current economic times "are arguably the worst in 60 years".
But surely Mr Darling deserves defending from the various accusations laid at his door, of everything from talking us into recession and causing the pound to plunge.
Has he really dropped a clanger as The Times asserts? And has his loose talk failed "to provide consumers and investors with necessary reassurance" as the paper's leading article argued yesterday?
Of course not.
Did consumers and investors take much comfort last week from the government's out-of-date (and now absurd) 2.5% growth forecast for next year, which has not been subject to anything like the same level of mockery?
Anyway, since when has it been the government's job to encourage investors to invest, or to entice consumers back into the shops? I would rather ministers gave us unbiased guidance on these matters, rather than advice it thinks is wrong on the grounds there is some bigger social purpose from so-doing.
And why do free market newspapers now find that an important government role is to talk up the pound? (The currency probably needs to drop to soften the downturn, as the falling dollar has done in the US. Who knows what the "right" level of the pound is at the moment?)
Put aside the fact that the chancellor diluted his own comment by using the word "arguably", a nuance which journalists have mostly dropped in the retelling of his words. Put aside that he was not apparently saying the country is poorer than in 1948, nor that this is likely to be the deepest recession since then either, claims which it has been all too easily to ridicule.
Put aside too, the fact that many people have made economic comparisons between today and the 1930s without being mocked.
Even putting those points aside, all the Chancellor did was simply to align the government's own narrative on the economy with that which the rest of us had already been believing for several months.
In the face of all the evidence to the contrary, I think it would have been a mistake for Mr Darling to have stuck to his previous line that we are uniquely well-placed to weather the storm. It seems unlikely he had special powers to move us all with his words of encouragement and positive thinking .. if only he hadn't blown it.
If political spin could move the economy so far, let's improve the quality of our schools by demanding that education ministers tell us inner city schools are better than suburban ones. And maybe the foreign secretary could get Russia out of Georgia by telling us they are not there at all.
No, if we could make the economy strong by lying about it, I would be out there for lying all the time. But it didn't work in the Soviet Union, and it won't work in a country with a free press either. Better that Mr Darling tells us what he thinks, than he tells us what we'd like to hear.
And as for Mr Darling exacerbating a crisis, I for one would like to meet the currency traders who judge the appropriate level of the pound by earnestly listening to the forlorn optimism of government ministers exhorting us to believe things are not as bad as we think they are.
I can't understand why the criticism has been applied to the Chancellor's unusual departure from the normal rules of political rhetoric, when surely it is the normal rules that demand reform.