How Alistair Darling went from left-wing firebrand to saving capitalism

The former chancellor, who has died aged 70, was faced with the collapse of the banking system in 2008. Author and journalist Michael Harrison – who got to know Darling well when writing a book on the crisis – recalls how his steeliness, cool and humour rescued the economy from financial armageddon

Friday 01 December 2023 18:00 GMT
<p>Alistair Darling, who died on Thursday aged 70, was chancellor during the 2008 financial crisis</p>

Alistair Darling, who died on Thursday aged 70, was chancellor during the 2008 financial crisis

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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