The first time I encountered Alistair Darling was in the summer of 1996. He was a newly appointed member of the Treasury team in Tony Blair’s shadow cabinet and I was the business editor of this newspaper. The last time I met him was in Edinburgh in the autumn of 2019 when I was researching a book on the great financial crash of 2008, a crisis in which Darling played no small part.
In the intervening years one of us went on to great things. Darling successively held the briefs for Work and Pensions, Scotland, Transport and Trade and Industry in various Labour governments before finally becoming chancellor of the Exchequer in June 2007 – some 12 months before the balloon went up and chaos descended on the world’s banking system.
In some senses, his previous ministerial posts had been one long audition for the crucial role he was to play in that extraordinary drama. Darling was renowned in Westminster and Whitehall as a safe pair of hands and in 2008 that was what was sorely needed. After all, it was he who was transport secretary in 2005 when the 7/7 bombings shook the capital’s transport system, killing 52 innocent commuters – a disaster that could have been so much worse had Darling not ensured London Underground had already run mock exercises simulating just such an attack.
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