Downing Street has a new Iron Lady – only, this time, Maggie lives at No 11

Michelle Obama called Maggie Darling a 'Scottish firebrand', and she's just the latest Treasury matriarch to prove a real asset

Joining her husband on the steps of 11 Downing Street on Wednesday, as he held aloft his Budget box for possibly the last time, Maggie Darling leant her head shyly on his shoulder in a rather touching public display of affection.

But the real Mrs Darling is far from shy and retiring. She is, like another Maggie, an Iron Lady, and one whose grit and determination were instrumental in the Chancellor's firm stance against Gordon Brown in unveiling a "keep calm" plan for the public finances.

The Prime Minister wanted what could be his government's final Budget to be sweetened for the electorate, using extra billions from lower borrowing and higher tax receipts for vote-winning giveaways.

But Mr Darling's allies made clear it was "Alistair's Budget", and in the end there were few gifts for voters for fear of upsetting the markets. The Chancellor may be under fire for failing to come clean on the extent of cuts across Whitehall, but there has been little effect, so far, on the polls.

Mrs Darling was key to urging the Chancellor to remain firm against Mr Brown over the Budget, as she has been at every crucial stage of their nearly three years in No 11. Maggie Darling's name is now the stuff of Westminster legend after she featured last month in Andrew Rawnsley's book on the fall of New Labour.

When leaks from No 10 claimed Mr Darling was facing the sack last year, Mrs Darling is reported to have raged: "The fucking cunts are trying to stitch up Alistair! The cunts! I can't believe they're such cunts!" – although it emerged later the word she actually used was "bastards".

Michelle Obama, after meeting the former journalist a year ago, described her as a "true Scottish firebrand". As Maggie Vaughan, she was a journalist for the Daily Record and Glasgow Herald, and remains well liked among politicians and journalists.

At the same Downing Street reception where she impressed the US First Lady, she was the heart and soul of the party, introducing Dame Kelly Holmes to Mrs Obama and other leading female figures. But she is not the first chancellor's wife to have a reputation for feisty loyalty to her husband.

Elspeth, now Lady, Howe typifies the formidable political spouse. When her husband Geoffrey was appointed Chancellor by Margaret Thatcher after the 1979 election, she was already a success in her own right. But that year she was removed from her post as deputy director of the Equal Opportunities Commission by the new Prime Minister. It is perhaps no surprise that Lady Howe became a critic of her husband's boss: she is assumed to have helped to write Lord Howe's devastating resignation speech of November 1990, which played a pivotal role in bringing down Lady Thatcher.

Denis Healey, while he was Labour Chancellor, described an attack by Lord Howe (at that time his Tory shadow) as like being "savaged by a dead sheep". Months before her husband's demolition of Lady Thatcher, Lady Howe remarked portentously: "Beware the wolf in dead sheep's clothing."

Lord Healey's wife, Edna, was a successful biographer while her husband served in the Cabinet for 12 years. Her books, including her autobiography describing the life of a political spouse – Part of the Pattern: Memoirs of a Wife at Westminster – drew similar conclusions: that powerful men marry strong, determined women.

What of Mrs Darling's successors? If the Conservatives win, the No 11 parties will be hosted by Frances Osborne, the author wife of George Osborne who has been described by friends as a "feisty feminist". Last week, Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said he was "ready to serve" as Chancellor in the event of a hung parliament. If so, his wife, Rachel Wenban Smith, will be picking out the curtains at No 11. A New Forest farmer, her first encounter with Mr Cable involved a heated argument about Liberal Democrat policy on free trade.

If Labour pulls off a shock victory, then there will be a power struggle between Ed Balls, Mr Brown's closest political ally, and Mr Darling for the job. Mr Brown said yesterday that the incumbent would "of course" remain Chancellor. Mr Balls's wife, Yvette Cooper, is already a cabinet minister and is unlikely to assume the role of No 11 chatelaine.

But if Mr Brown keeps his word, and if Labour does win or forms a government in a hung parliament, Maggie Darling will remain a fixture in our lives for some time to come.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up