Atlantic Books £19.99
Back From the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11, By Alistair Darling
I will not move over – Darling
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Sunday 11 September 2011
The reverse sexists assume that this book is stylishly written only because Alistair Darling's wife, Maggie Vaughan, and Catherine McLeod, his special adviser, helped to write it.
I am not so sure. I have always liked Darling's dry wit, and my own unfounded assumption is that the best lines in the book are his own.
Either way, it has some nice observations of the absurdities of high politics. Darling was appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury by Tony Blair in 1997 and, "as I left the Cabinet room, I was handed a folder by the Cabinet Secretary. It was empty. He told me that ministers cannot be seen to leave Downing Street empty-handed. I accepted the prop."
Thirteen years later, he was one of only three ministers (Gordon Brown and Jack Straw were the others) to have served in Cabinet for the entire stretch. He nearly didn't, as was well known at the time, and better known now that he has set down his account of how he reluctantly, but with some relief, accepted that Brown was going to replace him as Chancellor – with Ed Balls – in the summer of 2009. That was until James Purnell resigned as the Work and Pensions Secretary. Brown then calculated that sacking his Chancellor would be too dangerous, and changed his mind with all the good grace for which he was renowned: "OK, you can stay."
That episode is central to Darling's book. There were tantalising hints at the time, but now we also know that Darling, the second most powerful member of the Cabinet, thought about "getting rid" of Brown. He thought Brown's refusal to talk about cutting the deficit during the election campaign was a mistake, and that a policy of honesty would be more successful. I wonder about that – it may be that the voters preferred Brown's state of denial. But, because Darling and the rest held back from assassination, Labour got the worst of both worlds. Brown fought an election with a divided party and on a divided platform.
Darling should have resigned, and he as good as admits it: "For any government to operate effectively there has to be complete unity at the top, especially between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor."
After Brown said he could stay in 2009, Darling comments: "There will be those who think that if I had said, 'I've had enough, I'm off', it would have brought him down. It might have done. But I was not prepared to do that. I had supported his leadership .... Also, I feel deep loyalty to the Labour Party. I did not want to damage it any further. There was already a sense of calamity; we were in no fit shape to fight an election. To walk away would have been to absolve myself of collective responsibility for the government."
On the contrary, to have walked away would have fulfilled his responsibility – to ensure that either Brown had his choice as Chancellor or that the country had a new prime minister.
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 Grandmas keep accidentally tagging themselves as Grandmaster Flash on Facebook
- 4 Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
- 5 Kanye West halts concert after two fans don't stand up - doesn't realise one is in wheelchair and the other disabled
Fifty Shades of Grey movie: New picture of Anastasia Steele unveiled
Star Trek 3 to begin shooting in next six months
Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
The Walking Dead season 5 air date, trailer and season 4 recap
Robin Thicke’s hit 'Blurred Lines' lands him in court, and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly