Ken Clarke warns middle class over cuts
The middle classes are unaware of the scale of government spending cuts that will hit them this year, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has said.
Mr Clarke said the coalition should be prepared for political difficulty when Middle England feels the full impact.
He told the Daily Telegraph he did not envisage a "quick rebound" for an economy in a "calamitous" state.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said the coalition had not thought out the implications of its strategy.
He told BBC Radio Wales: "What you see is a government which has a plan to get rid of jobs in the public sector but not enough of a plan to replace them in the private sector."
Finding the balance between warning of tough economic times ahead on the one hand, and holding out the prospect of better ones on the other, has sometimes been tricky for this government.
Ken Clarke's views, which he's expressed in similar terms before, put him in the more pessimistic camp, believing that it will be a "long haul" back to economic recovery.
He is, of course, a former Chancellor, and describes himself in the interview as a "deficit hawk" - someone who believes the deficit must be tackled rigorously.
He agrees with the current Chancellor and the Prime Minister that cuts need to be made. The view from Downing Street is that David Cameron has also recently warned that this would be a tough year as those cuts begin to be implemented.
Mr Clarke is being rather more explicit about the potential political troubles for the coalition that he sees ahead in Middle England.
Mr Clarke told the Telegraph: "One reason we're going to get some political difficulty is that [while] the public knows we've got to do something about it, I don't think Middle England has quite taken on board the scale of the problem.
"That will emerge as the cuts start coming home this year. We've got to get on with it [but] it's going to be very difficult.
"If someone says it's not as bad as all that, I say [they] just don't realise the calamitous position we're in."
Shadow Treasury Chief Secretary Angela Eagle said Mr Clarke should be worried about "economic difficulty", not just political difficulty.
"The Tory-led government may have boasted before Christmas that Britain was recovering and out of the danger zone, but their decisions have meant the economy has now stalled and both unemployment and inflation are rising." she said.
"And this is before the full impact of the VAT hike and deep spending cuts have been felt."
She added: "Ken Clarke should come clean that his government made a political choice to reduce the deficit in this way. No other major economy is cutting this far and this fast."
In the interview, the justice secretary also questions Downing Street's hopes of limiting an extension of the vote in elections to prisoners serving up to one year, saying four years would be a more realistic figure.