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Alistair Darling - "Revenge is a dish best served cold",
This review is from: Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11 (Hardcover)
It was obvious at the time and now we have the copious personal reflections of former Chancellor Alastair Darling in his very readable memoir "Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11" confirming that Gordon Brown supported him in the same way that a rope supports a hanging man. Darling was a mainstay of all the new Labour cabinets from 1997 and yet would never be viewed by the Stalinist apparatchiks around Brown such as Ed Balls, Charlie Whelan and Damien McBride as "on message". Indeed the brooding Prime Minister wanted Balls to have his job despite the fact that in the wider Labour Party, Browns protege was about as popular as a rat sandwich. As it stands the resignation of James Purnell and the "Coup that never happened" during the summer of 2009 against Brown effectively saved Darlings place in Number 11 and led the Prime Minister in a typically grudging lack of enthusiasm to tell Darling "Ok you can stay".
Quite why Darling wanted to stay is a mystery. The constant interference by Balls and Brown was one thing but the great economic forces were signalling the darkest clouds as the world economy collapsed around Lehman Bothers and on Darling's "watch". The British Economy was hit by a succession of crisis starting with Northern Rock in 2007, the bailouts of irresponsible bankers, a deep recession and yet four years later still seems more fragile than ever. We learn that Darling was key in ensuring that the Barclays bail out of Lehman's didn't happen not least with the fears that even more bad debt contagion be brought into our system. We also learn Darling intense frustrations with the Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King who he describes as `amazingly stubborn and exasperating". Think back on King's record not least his sycophantic praise of Gordon Brown prior to 2005 and the failure of both the Bank of England and the Treasury to restrain a kamikaze housing boom supported by sub prime lending and you marvel at his remarkable powers of survival. He followed this with hawkish refusals on lowering interest rates when leading economists like Danny Blanchflower were accurately warning of the carnage to come and has now become the cheerleader for the Coalitions' cuts programme.
To be fair to Darling he had honestly warned in August 2008 that the UK faced its worse economic crisis in 60 years. Imagine the boiling resentment this caused at Number 10 where Brown was still rehearsing his "crisis what crisis" line and refusing to even contemplate reigning back on spending. As Darling states "My fairly accurate prediction of what was to come economically might have been long forgotten but for the inept briefing machine at No 10". With he classic verbal "two fingered salute" Darling goes on to state "For that I owe them thanks, which is something I am sure they never anticipated." Ultimately Alistair Darling comes over in this memoir as decent and honorable man. BUT (and it is a very large "but") when it really mattered he was also a rather timid politician who was never really prepared to join the forces wishing to oust Brown despite the fact that he found the approach of fellow Scot to government as one which led to a "permanent air of chaos and crisis". Darlings book is not a huge memoir and for those with an interest in politics it is a good read, it also sharply contrasts with his successor Ed Balls who finds it almost impossible to tell any truth whatsoever about this same period. As such "Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11" is a very nice corrective.