UK Politics

Cameron rebukes peer over "never had it so good" claims

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Media captionDavid Cameron tells reporters Lord Young's comments were "unacceptable" and "extremely embarrassing".

David Cameron has rebuked his enterprise adviser for claiming most Britons had "never had it so good" despite the "so-called recession".

Former cabinet minister Lord Young of Graffham told the Daily Telegraph the fall in interest rates to 0.5% meant many homeowners were better off.

The prime minister said the peer was "embarrassed" by his comments, stressing they were "unacceptable".

"I think he will be doing a bit less speaking in future," Mr Cameron added.

Lord Young, who served in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet in the 1980s, earlier wrote to Mr Cameron to apologise for what he said were "insensitive and inaccurate" remarks about the impact of the economic downturn.

In the Daily Telegraph interview, Lord Young said: "For the vast majority of people in the country today, they have never had it so good ever since this recession - this so-called recession - started."

'Not short of money'

The peer's comments echoed those made by former Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1957 when, at a time of strong economic growth, he famously said: "Most of our people have never had it so good".

Lord Young told the newspaper "most people" with a mortgage found their monthly repayments had decreased by up to £600 each time rates had been cut.

He also suggested the government's spending cuts, totalling more than £80bn over four years, would just take state spending levels back to what they were in 2007 - a time, he said, when people were "not short of money".

"Now, I don't remember in '07 being short of money or the government being short of money," he said. "So, you know, I have a feeling and a hope that when this goes through, people will wonder what all the fuss was about.

"Of course, there will be people who complain, but these are people who think they have a right for the state to support them."

Forecasts of 100,000 public sector job losses a year was "within the margin of error" in the context of the 30 million-strong job sector, he added.

'Anxious future'

Mr Cameron condemned Lord Young's remarks but said he would remain in the unpaid role of enterprise adviser he took up last month.

"Obviously he is extremely embarrassed," Mr Cameron said during a visit to Cornwall.

"He has withdrawn what he said, he has apologised for what he said and that's absolutely right. He is not a member of the government, he does not speak for the government and I think he'll be doing a bit less speaking in the future.

"He should get on with what he has been doing. He was very quick to retract completely what he said. It was unacceptable."

In his letter to Mr Cameron, Lord Young - a former lawyer who had worked as a businessman in a variety of industries - said he "deeply regretted" the comments and "entirely understood the offence they will cause".

"Low mortgage interest rates may have eased the burden for some families in this country," he said. "But millions of families face a very difficult and anxious future as we come to grips with the deficit. I should have chosen my words much more carefully."

Image caption Lord Young was taken on by David Cameron just last month to carry out an unpaid role

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Angela Eagle said the original claims made by Lord Young were "insulting".

"People worried about their jobs will be disgusted by Lord Young's insulting claim that 'they've never had it so good'.

"No wonder the government has no plan for jobs and growth - the man that David Cameron personally appointed as his adviser on helping small businesses thinks that the loss of 100,000 jobs a year is no big deal," she said.

'Claptrap'

And unions said Lord Young's comments showed how "out of touch" the government was.

"His Thatcherite claptrap shows that this country has passed into the hands of an out-of-touch, unaccountable elite," said Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the Unite union.

"But Lord Young has done the people of this country a favour - now we know exactly what this government thinks of them.

"The plain truth is, this cabinet of millionaires is out of touch with the rising cost of living, frozen wages and the terror ordinary people have that their jobs will disappear as they're sacrificed to fulfil this government's goal of a low-wage, broken, state-privatised Britain."

Lord Young was ennobled in 1984, a month before he joined Mrs Thatcher's cabinet as minister without portfolio, where he was tasked with advising the government about unemployment issues.

Earlier this year, Mr Cameron asked him to produce a report on health and safety legislation.

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said that Lord Young appeared to be comparing the current age of austerity with a far more benevolent economic climate in the mid-1950s.

In a famous speech at that time, Mr Macmillan painted a rosy picture of Britain's economy, while calling for wage restraint and warning that inflation was the country's most important problem of the post-war era.

Lord Young's remarks contrast with statements made by senior government ministers, including Mr Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg, about the severity of the recession and the "painful" decisions needed to cut spending to balance the books.

It has been estimated that more than a million workers were made redundant during the 2008-09 recession and up to 500,000 public sector jobs are expected to be lost by 2015 as a result of the spending squeeze.

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