Ken Clarke has admitted voters are not feeling any benefit from improved growth figures and warned cabinet colleagues not to be "triumphalist" about any recovery.
The veteran cabinet minister warned the Conservatives had a problem that while GDP figures and unemployment numbers may finally be going in the right direction the "ordinary members of the public isn't feeling much benefit from this".
He said voters would be entitled to hear ministers boasting of improved economic statistics and think "there's not much sign of that round here". He added: "It's very hard for everybody."
Clarke was speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference hosted by the New Statesman in Manchester on Tuesday evening as the argument between the Tories and Labour moves onto living standards.
He told activists that he had been brought into David Cameron's front bench team before the election to provide some economic gravitas.
"I was surprised to be invited back to the front bench. I was enjoying myself as a backbencher. I think it [Cameron's shadow cabinet] was vulnerable to criticism that it was an inexperienced looking team."
"I was invited back on the basis I was going to be secretary of state for business. That would have happened had we wont the election but we didn't."
In the event the job went to Liberal Democrat Vince Cable. But Clarke, a former chancellor, said he maintained a" great interest in economic policy".
Clarke, who recently selected George Osborne as a leading candidate to succeed Cameron, said the chancellor had given a "positively statesmanlike" conference speech and was "succeeding very well keeping us out of trouble".
He added: "I don't think they need me around to demonstrate gravitas."
However he said the country had gone though the "most appalling crisis" that was "quite unlike anything any other previous British government has had to do" and compared to other recessions, "a beaut".
"This is not the end. If I thought my colleagues were being triumphalist I would be highly critical of them."
Clarke, who has been an MP since 1970, also confirmed he would be seeking re-election in 2015. "I am aspiring parliamentary candidate for Rushcliffe so aspiring candidates in the room can relax," he said.
However he said he was somewhat attracted to the "secure parking" in the House of Lords, adding that the upper House was "a very nice club" he might like to join one day.