Matthew Norman: Be bold, Ed Miliband – bring Alistair Darling back into the fold

Among rogues, fools and braggarts he shone out as a beacon of calm integrity and decency

Share

Reshuffles come and reshuffles go, and Ed Miliband's afternoon of the short spoons came and went with such minimal impact that it barely deserves the title at all. If the dealer shuffled in such dilatory fashion at a Vegas poker table, you'd assume the game was rigged and head to another casino.

Little Ed can be excused for doing no more than tweak a few of his obscurati (not that the shadow Welsh Secretary isn't pivotal). With the latest poll showing Labour ahead by 14 per cent, why try to fix something that apparently ain't broke? For all that, I think he is missing a trick by leaving a potential ace buried in the deck, and suggest he brings it to the top of the deck in the more electrifying reshuffle he is expected to announce in time for the autumnal conference season. Ed Miliband needs somehow to make Alistair Darling his Shadow Chancellor.

The objections to this latest outbreak of fantasy politics are very obvious. For one thing, there is no evidence that the former Chancellor is any keener on swapping the safety of trenches for the front line than his great-great uncle Kevin at the end of Blackadder Goes Forth. The enemy may be less scary than the Bosch of 1918, with George Osborne wounded, perhaps fatally, by the double dip and his role in exposing the Conservatives to the full toxicity of the scandal which led to certain criminal charges yesterday. Even so, having served in the Cabinet throughout New Labour's 13 years in power, and stared into the face of financial armageddon after the 2008 collapse of RBS, Mr Darling may still be suffering from residual shell shock.

It would look like insanity, meanwhile, for Little Ed to risk the ceasefire which has unexpectedly settled over his party by humiliating the incumbent. Even his critics will acknowledge that Ed Balls has owned Mr Osborne in recent weeks. Moving him to a less lustrous portfolio, or more likely having to sack him for refusing one, would be sensationally incendiary. It would put the ice-pixie Yvette Cooper in a horrible nuptial position, and threaten to destabilise the party when stability is such a potent weapon of contrast against an ever more schismatic Coalition.

Having listed the gloomier aspects to this meisterplan, I now invite you to join me in its sun-drenched uplands. If ever a politician was exquisitely suited to a particular job at a specific moment, it is Mr Darling today. He has in abundance the quality that neither of the Eds, David Cameron, Mr Osborne nor Nick Clegg has at all. He has experience of successfully coping with a desperately sick economy and with the threat of imminent financial catastrophe that will revive if and when Greece leaves the euro. That alone makes him a potentially priceless asset.

The punters trust him partly on instinct because he seems so reassuringly dull (despite a wry wit that must make him good company); but primarily because, as Chancellor, he would not be bullied into silence, or outright lying, about the extent of the crisis. Messrs Brown and Balls had their trolls brief so savagely against him that, when he fell curiously silent during one particularly tense week, he was widely believed to be propping up a ring road flyover on the outskirts of Doncaster. Yet this deceptively tough chap would not allow them to bury him alive, and continued to break the first iron law of New Labour by telling the simple truth.

In a succession of cabinets peopled by fools, rogues, braggarts, incompetents, internecine plotters, pathological liars and messianic monsters, he shone out as a beacon of calm integrity and old-fashioned decency. He worked with the Blairites, and was close to Gordon, until almost the end, without ever becoming his creature.

The same may not be said of Mr Balls, who is too indelibly stained as Gordon's fellow arsonist, in preparing the inferno by relaxing fiscal discipline, to benefit fully from being proved correct about the best road to recovery. He remains a liability, for all his intellect and energy, because whenever the Treasury releases bad news, that cheeky little face cannot disguise relish at the impact on his career prospects. With every fresh negative growth or rising unemployment figure, one imagines Mr Balls doing a victory jig around the kitchen, clad only in his pinny, while preparing the lasagne. Mr Darling you can only picture sighing with empathy.

This is not the time for grandstanding opportunists. This is a time for solemn maturity, and for all his considerable talents Ed Miliband has not an iota of that. When the smart politician identifies a personal deficit, he imports the commodity. In our increasingly presidential politics he needs to balance the ticket, just as Barack Obama did by picking Joe Biden, to diminish the perception of being callow and what the Americans call unseasoned.

Speaking of wise old Nestors, isn't it lovely to see Peter Mandelson (and Mr Tony himself) returning to the fold just as Labour takes the ascendancy? This eerie coincidence of timing reminds us how Mandy did such damage to Mr Osborne after the yachtocratic pow-wows on Corfu, when some advised Cameron to replace him with a well-liked and trusted former Chancellor who, like Mr Darling, bequeathed an economy in growth. Had Cameron listened and made Ken Clarke Shadow Chancellor in 2008, hindsight suggests that his comforting presence would have inflated a plurality of seats into an outright Tory majority.

Whatever the longer term effect of Alistair Darling returning to shadow his old job, it would cement Labour's improbably large polling lead, while jettisoning Mr Balls would reinforce Little Ed's reputation for being a bold and effective gambler, built on his fratricidal seizing of the crown. Whether Milibandroid the Elder ever makes any kind of comeback may have symbolic importance, but in this game the most crucial step towards checkmating the Tories would come in the classic chessboard colour combination of white hair and black eyebrows.

This is purest fantasy politics, as I said, but outlandish fantasies come true every now and then as Sergio Aguero confirmed deep into added time on Sunday. So the final word to Labour's leader is this. Go to Alistair on both knees, and serenade him with the snatch of McCartneyist-Lennonist dogma pithily expressed by the Beatles in the fourth track on Abbey Road. "Oh Darling, if you leave me, I'll never make it alone/ Believe me when I beg you, don't ever leave me alone."

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bathroom Showroom Customer Service / Sales Assistant

£14560 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Even though their premises have...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Manager

£44000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Marketing company based in cent...

Recruitment Genius: IT Installation / Commissioning Engineer - North West

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Installation / Commission...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Mininster: I would legislate for abortion on demand and abolish VAT on sanitary products

Caroline Criado-Perez
 

Election catch-up: Just what the election needs – another superficially popular but foolish policy

John Rentoul
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence