Darling’s Mystery Cabinet Minister
I have reviewed Alistair Darling’s memoir, Back from the Brink, for The Independent on Sunday, as well as writing an article about it asking “Why did nobody stop Brown?” last week, but there is more to say.
There is, indeed, more to say than is said in the book. Darling writes about a Cabinet minister who behaved badly over the 2009 pre-Budget Report, but says he won’t name “them”:
The wrangling on spending went to the wire. On the night before the pre-Budget Report, I went to bed at 11 o’clock and told my office that no more changes could be made. Next morning, my private secretary told me that one of my colleagues had been demanding to speak to me at 1.30am, trying to reopen the settlement. I’ll spare their blushes.
But The Sunday Times reported at the time that it was Yvette Cooper, who did not want to make cuts to pensions.
There are also more examples of Darling’s understated humour than I had space for. When he arrived at the Treasury as Chancellor he was greeted by Nick Macpherson, the Permanent Secretary. Macpherson observed that ‘there were only about three [people working in the building] who had ever experienced a recession. That was soon put right.’
He soon complained about the way Gordon Brown worked:
Far too often, individuals consulted on an issue did not know that he [Brown] was speaking to others and weren’t aware of the competing arguments. A meeting with Gordon involved many elephants in the room.
Later on, he ponders the changing requirements of political presentation:
It is hard to envisage … Gladstone hugging a Spice Girl, at least in public.
In my review I make the point that Darling served the country badly by staying in post in 2009 when Gordon Brown wanted to replace him with Ed Balls. I think Darling should have forced the issue: either Labour would have gone to the country the following year united at the top behind a policy with which I (and Darling) disagreed, but which would have been at least clear, or Brown would have been replaced by David Miliband.
There was another reason why Darling’s staying on was a mistake. It handed victory to Brown’s boss-politics of intimidation. It allows the belief to survive that the way to the top, and to stay there, is to behave badly in private, bear grudges, issue threats, brief against rivals and plot against members of your own party.
Politics may be what Alan Watkins called a rough old trade, but I do not believe that Brown’s methods are the most effective, and they were deeply damaging to the Labour Party’s reputation.
This was not only Darling’s failing: Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell, David Miliband, Alan Johnson, Harriet Harman and others are all to blame. Even James Purnell, the only one brave enough to resign and say that Labour couldn’t win under Brown, failed to let others know what he was doing so that they might join him.
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