Monday, March 29, 2010

When Alistair Darling was Red Ally

With the would-be chancellors' debate on Channel 4 this evening, this is a good time to recall that Alistair Darling was not always the monochrome figure he appears today.

As I once recorded on this blog, before Darling joined Labour he was a member of the Trotskyite International Marxist Group. And in his early Labour days, he was a hard-left council leader in the mould of Ted Knight or Derek Hatton.

So extreme was he that the Scottish Labour establishment sent George Galloway along to talk some sense into him.

Galloway later remembered those days:

When I first met him 35 years ago Darling was pressing Trotskyite tracts on bewildered railwaymen at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. He was a supporter of the International Marxist Group, whose publication was entitled the Black Dwarf.

Later, in preparation for his current role he became the treasurer of what was always termed the rebel Lothian Regional Council. Faced with swinging government spending cuts which would have decimated the council services or electorally ruinous increases in the rates, Alistair came up with a creative wheeze.

The council, he said, should refuse to set a rate or even agree a budget at all, plunging the local authority into illegality and a vortex of creative accounting leading to bankruptcy.

Surprisingly, this strategy had some celebrated friends. There was "Red Ted" Knight, the leader of Lambeth council, in London, and Red Ken Livingstone newly elected leader of Greater London Council. Red Ally and his friends around the Black Dwarf were for a time a colourful part of the Scottish left ...

The former Scottish trade union leader Bill Speirs and I were dispatched by the Scottish Labour Party to try and talk Alistair Darling down from the ledge of this kamikaze strategy, pointing out that thousands of workers from home helps to headteachers would lose their jobs as a result and that the council leaders - including him - would be sequestrated, bankrupted and possibly incarcerated. How different things might have been.

Anyway, I well remember Red Ally's denunciation of myself as a "reformist", then just about the unkindest cut I could have imagined.

No comments: