You'd expect a finance minister to exude calm not crisis. Yet Alistair Darling, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, has ominously told The Guardian that we face the worst economic conditions for sixty years.
Darling gave the paper a surprisingly candid interview, in which he came across as a decent man who wasn't really cut out for the unattractive world of politics. It's hard to see what possessed him to talk up the crisis facing Britain's economy. While conditions are hardly rosy, few who lived through the late 1980s recession, let alone the 1970s, could accept the idea that we are yet in comparable straits. The 1989 crisis was a perfect storm: interest rates doubled in 18 months while unemployment soared. So far, we've experienced nothing like those grim events.
I had a ringside seat as the 1980s housing boom turned sour. I was press officer for Nationwide Building Society, and issued a series of news releases about the state of the housing market. At the end of 1988, I issued a story that claimed the peak of the market (absolutely right) and predicted a soft landing for house prices in 1989. The expected soft landing turned out to be the worst housing market crash since the second world war. Some 18 months later, I issued a release proclaiming that the first time buyer was back, and suggesting that the market would begin to recover. That recovery took over three years to materialise as thousands of borrowers had their homes repossessed. (In my defence, I should add that I was simply communicating the views of Nationwide's housing economists. But few commentators were more prescient.)
The moral of the story? Take very little notice of anyone's predictions about house prices or interest rates.
PS: The Guardian's Decca Aitkenhead quotes a Treasury press officer advising the chancellor to "tell her [Aitkenhead] everything. Make sure you tell her everything." I suspect that Darling will be cursing that advice this weekend.