Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Darling the Rock Fall Guy but Blame Lies with Many

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Darling the Rock Fall Guy but Blame Lies with Many

Article excerpt


HE WAS damned if he did, damned if he didn't. If Alistair Darling hadsold Northern Rock to Virgin, the headline writers would have lined up tocondemn him.

"Branson's steal", "Branson's bank robbery" they would have screamed.

This way, he's having to contend with "Fury over Rock nationalisation" and"[pounds sterling]100bn gamble with your cash".

He looks like a chancer, oblivious to public opinionnot fit, in other words, to be Chancellor. But ever since the prospect of aquick private sale to Lloyds TSB was blocked by Bank of England Governor MervynKing, and it soon became apparent that interest elsewhere in the industry wasvirtually non-existent, this day has been coming.

When Olivant, the other credible bidder after Branson, backed out, theGovernment was on a hiding to nothing.

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne accuses Darling of dithering, of notnationalising earlier, but this is the same Osborne who says he is stillopposed to this course. Apparently, if he'd been Chancellor he would haveorchestrated "a Bank of England-led reconstruction".

To which I say, don't make me laugh. The idea of the callow Osborne steeringthe resolute King away from ensuring bankers aren't rewarded for their moralhazard is ridiculous.

Darling stands accused of shattering Labour's reputation for economicincompetence. By doing what? By not selling the country's fifth-biggest bank tosomeone who is untried and untested as a banker, has made his fortune fromputting in little and taking out a lot, and likes to keep his personal financeswell away from the taxman, in the British Virgin Islands.

The truth, unpalatable as it is for Darling's opponents, is that nobody elsewanted Northern Rock. Once Olivant went, it was effectively the Treasury or thetax-avoider. Go on, you make that choice. Predictably as well, the old soresabout Labour's past are resurrected.

For heaven's sake, I even heard mention of Red Robbo and British Leyland onRadio 4 today. …

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