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Former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling dies, aged 70

Tributes flood in for giant of British politics, as Keir Starmer mourns ‘immeasurable’ loss

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Thursday 30 November 2023 17:28 GMT
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Former chancellor Alastair Darling dies aged 70

The former chancellor and Labour Party veteran Alistair Darling has died from cancer at the age of 70, a spokesperson for his family has announced.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer led tributes to a giant of British politics who presided over the rescue of the UK’s banking sector during the global financial crisis of 2008.

Sir Keir mourned the “immeasurable loss” of the Labour grandee, who also successfully spearheaded the 2014 campaign for the unionist side which saw Scotland remain part of the UK.

Former Labour PM Gordon Brown said his colleague would be remembered as “a statesman of unimpeachable integrity”, and that he relied on the “wisdom and calmness” of his old ally.

Sir Tony Blair said Mr Darling was an “outstanding” politician who had been the “safest of safe hands” in his government – adding that he would “remember him with huge affection”.

Rishi Sunak paid tribute to “a dedicated public servant who served this country through challenging times”. “The role he played during the 2014 independence referendum was vital in keeping our union together,” he said

A statement issued on behalf of the family on Thursday afternoon said that “the much-loved husband of Margaret and beloved father of Calum and Anna, died after a short spell in Western General Hospital under the wonderful care of the cancer team”.

Sir Keir said he was “deeply saddened” by his death. The Labour leader said Mr Darling would be remembered as “the chancellor whose calm expertise and honesty helped to guide Britain through the tumult of the global financial crisis”.

Alastair Darling ‘guided’ Britain through financial crisis, said Keir Starmer (Getty)

Sir Keir said he was “incredibly fortunate” to have benefited from the veteran’s counsel over the years. “He was always at hand to provide advice built on his decades of experience – always with his trademark wry, good humour.”

He added: “Alistair will be missed by all those whose lives he touched. His loss to the Labour Party, his friends and his family is immeasurable.”

Mr Darling served as the chancellor from 2007 to 2010 during the final years of the last Labour government when Mr Brown was prime minister.

He was in charge at the Treasury during the crucial period of the global banking crisis, pushing through a huge rescue package for the banks in 2008 which helped stabilise Britain’s economy.

Mr Darling facilitated the bailout of the UK banking system following the sub-prime mortgage crash to the tune of £137bn – negotiated in a late-night meeting with bank bosses. He had taken a call from the head of the RBS saying the bank would run out of money within hours.

Alastair Darling with close ally Gordon Brown at a Better Together campaign rally in 2014 (Getty)

The Labour grandee also ran the successful 2014 Better Together campaign, which saw voters in Scotland reject Scottish independence and opt to stay in the UK by 55 per cent to 45 per cent.

Mr Darling was pitted against the might of Alex Salmond’s SNP and the wider “Yes” movement which gained huge momentum in the campaign. But the Labour veteran was seen to get the better of Mr Salmond during a vital pre-poll TV debate – challenging the nationalist leader to explain which currency an independent Scotland would use.

Mr Brown said he was “deeply saddened” by the news of Mr Darling’s death. The former PM said his ally was “defined by a strong sense of social justice and who gained a global reputation for the assured competence”.

The former Labour leader said Mr Darling was a “popular and effective minister” who was held in the “highest esteem by me and all who worked with him” during the banking bailouts and international economic agreements of 2008 and 2009.

Tony Blair gave Mr Darling several top jobs in cabinet before his role as chancellor (Getty)

Mr Brown said Mr Darling was also “resolute and courageous in making the case for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom” as chair of the Better Together campaign.

“I, like many, relied on his wisdom, calmness in a crisis and his humour. He will be missed by all who knew and respected him and benefited from the great work he did,” he said.

Sir Tony said he “never met anyone who didn’t like” Mr Darling. “He was highly capable ... always kind and dignified even under the intense pressure politics can generate. I liked him and respected him immensely as a colleague and as a friend.”

The former Labour PM added: “In all the jobs he did for me in government … he was outstanding. I remember him with huge affection. He has been taken from us far too soon.”

New Labour grandee David Blunkett told The Independent that his former cabinet colleague was “one of the most thoughtful and personable politicians I have met”.

The ex-home secretary added: “You could disagree with him, and he would immediately put that to one side, enquire how you were and be incredibly supportive if things weren’t going to plan. His early death is both a tragedy for his family, and a great loss to the politics of our country.”

Mr Salmond said Mr Darling’s death was “very sad” having happened at a “relatively young age”, and went on to praise his tenure as chancellor during the financial crash. “When the moment of test came, Alistair passed with flying colours.”

The former SNP leader also said he never had a “cross word" with Mr Darling outside the “intense” TV debates in the lead-up to the 2014 independence referendum.

Mr Darling with the then shadow chancellor George Osborne prior to the 2010 general election (Getty)

The ex-chancellor had been a senior figure in Mr Blair’s government since the 1997 election landslide – starting as chief Treasury secretary, before going to cabinet positions in charge of work and pensions, trade and transport.

He first entered parliament in 1987 after winning his Edinburgh South seat from the Conservatives and represented the Scottish capital until he stepped down in 2015.

Foreign secretary David Cameron paid tribute to a “thoroughly kind and decent man”. The former PM added: “We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for chairing the Better Together campaign. He has left us far too early.”

Former Tory PM Sir John Major said Mr Darling’s death would be felt across the political spectrum – calling him “a decent man who brought civility, reason and intelligence to politics”.

Ex-chancellor George Osborne said Mr Darling will be remembered as someone who “brought out the best of politics – softly spoken, intelligent, always trying to do the right thing”.

His former Labour colleague Ed Balls said he was “funny” and “passionate”, adding: “Underneath that calmness, he was a radical – he thought that he could change things for the better.”

Former PM Theresa May said Mr Darling was a “committed public servant, a proud unionist and a calm, kind and decent man”. Boris Johnson paid tribute to “a towering figure” who “always brought wit, wisdom and intellect to his work”.

SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf also paid tribute. “He dedicated his life to public service and was a giant of Scottish politics,” he tweeted.

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