Sean O'Grady: The unfortunate fall guy for Gordon Brown

Share
Related Topics

Alistair Darling always reminds me of one of those contestants on The Apprentice, the type who are sensible, who never do anything wrong and whose team leader regularly lets them down – but who you know is going to get fired by Sir Alan Sugar. There's plenty that has gone wrong at the Treasury since Mr Darling took over a year ago, but not much that can be blamed directly on him, poor man. Losing the data discs? Not a single case of fraud has been reported. Some scandal. The credit crunch? The inevitable corollary of a credit boom, left undisturbed to run its delusional course by former chancellor Gordon Brown. Northern Rock? A consequence of the credit crunch, qv. The abolition of the 10p rate and other various botched tax rises? Mostly pre-announced in Mr Brown's Budgets. The collapse of the Government's fiscal rules? Mr Brown spent too much, recklessly so during the boom, a time when he should have been building up the public finances "for a rainy day". Inflation way off target? Blame the Chinese for consuming all that oil. Besides, it's the Bank of England's job to keep inflation down.

So what's Mr Darling guilty of, exactly? Nothing – but that won't help him survive. First, Mr Darling happens to be sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's an old story. A Chancellor faithfully carries out the wishes of the Prime Minister but when the policies goes disastrously wrong it is he, rather than the PM, who is sacrificed. It happened to Norman Lamont, forcibly removed from the Treasury in 1993 by John Major not long after sterling was humiliatingly ejected from the ERM, a policy Lamont was never much keen on anyway and was very much Major's own. It happened in 1967 to James Callaghan, who lost his job after an earlier devaluation of sterling, which was a policy he agreed with, but which was nonetheless dictated by his Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.

Wilson, so much like Major, simply carried on as if nothing had happened. Both beleaguered Prime Ministers recruited better, cleverer Chancellors in place of the sacked ones – Roy Jenkins and Ken Clarke – and went on to lose the subsequent general elections: Nemesis delayed but not averted.

Mr Brown could all too easily lumber Mr Darling with the blame for the failure of his policies. Unfair, but a definite option for Number 10.

Second, Mr Darling has no "following", no fan club, no political base. You get the impression that he was appointed by the desperately insecure Mr Brown on what might be termed the "David Brent" (as in The Office) principle of recruitment: "Be careful because there is always someone ready to step into your shoes and do your job better than you do it."

Darling will probably be another footnote Chancellor, like Anthony Barber (Heath's man at the Treasury from 1970 to 1974, and a disaster because he couldn't stand up to his boss) or Derick Heathcoat-Amory (Macmillan's forgotten economic chief from 1958 to 1960). Darling is already perceived as more puppet than master. Most Chancellors, like Mr Brown, are "big beasts", obvious candidates for the top job. A few make it to Number 10, the cohort split between those who exceeded expectations when they arrived (Macmillan, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Callaghan) and the underperformers (Neville Chamberlain, Major and, as we now know, Gordon Brown). Hugh Gaitskell, Attlee's last Chancellor, got to lead his party, while the bunch who nearly got to the top is almost as distinguished – Rab Butler in the 1950s, Reggie Maudling and Roy Jenkins in the 1960s, Iain Macleod and Denis Healey in the 1970s, and Ken Clarke a decade ago. A few, such as Hugh Dalton and Stafford Cripps in the 1940s, and Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey Howe in the 1980s, weren't taken too seriously as potential leaders, but were still substantial. Most had formidable intellects. All were pretty unsackable. Mr Darling is less well endowed than any of them. He is eminently sackable.

Third, Mr Darling has rivals. With weary inevitability we are hearing the suggestion that Ed Balls, who is currently kicking his heels as Schools Secretary, will replace Mr Darling in a summer reshuffle. It may not be long before Andy Burnham's and James Purnell's names also gain currency, alongside Alan Johnson and Jack Straw. They are all plausible when placed next to Mr Darling.

The greatest Chancellors drive their government's domestic agenda forward, using the Treasury as their engine – a very powerful machine in the right hands. Brown himself showed what could be done, though the legacy was unhappy. History shows that a government can be re-energised from Number 11 as well as Number 10, even if it cannot be saved. In their different ways Maudling, Jenkins, Healey and Clarke all put vigour into the defence of the doomed governments they served. Whatever the qualities of his highly intelligent Edinburgh lawyer, Mr Darling is not up to that task. Then again, who is?

s.ogrady@independent.co.uk

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?