Thursday, November 30, 2023

Alistair Darling's politics were not as dull as people are saying

I'm sorry to hear of the death of Alistair Darling. We owe him our gratitude as, together with Gordon Brown, he did much to stabilise the world financial system after the global crisis of 2007-8.

He is being written of as an outwardly dull politician who was funny and charming in private life.

While such figures today seem to belong to a more civilised but vanished order, it's fair to say that Darling's politics were not always dull.

So let me, in a spirit of affection, repeat the George Galloway's reminiscences from the Daily Record in March 2008:

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 late Ron Brown, Red Ronnie as he was known, was Alistair's bosom buddy. He was thrown out of Parliament for placing a placard saying hands off Lothian Region on Mrs Thatcher's despatch box while she was addressing the House. And Darling loved it at the time. 

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.

Yes, Darling's politics were once so exciting that the Scottish Labour Party sent George Galloway to talk some sense into him.


Anonymous said...

Is it apposite at this time to relate a bit of Darling Trivia? Everyone will remember that he had very white hair, but look at the photos carefully and you will see that he also had very dark eyebrows. According to an ex Tory MP of my acquaintance, who had cross-party links with him, he used to dye one of his eyebrows to ensure that they matched - otherwise, one would have been as white as his hair.

David Raw said...

Extremely sorry to hear of the death of Alistair Darling. It's just over three months since I heard him speak and answer questions at North Berwick. The Steels were in the audience.

The country has much to thank him for...... in 2008, in Kipling's terms, he kept his head when others were losing theirs during the American based financial crisis hit the rest of the world.

Frank Little said...

Gordon Brown receives too much credit for steadying the ship after the transatlantic credit crunch. Obituaries of Darling confirm that Brown wanted to spend his way out of trouble alla Truss, and that chancellor Darling to his credit resisted this.