Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Darling's Memoir Does Not Mean That Brown Failed

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Darling's Memoir Does Not Mean That Brown Failed

Article excerpt

Byline: Anthony Seldon

[bar] OR A few days the grey man seemed to have turned red with anger. Alistair Darling, twice voted Britain's most boring politician, has a new book, Back From the Brink, extracts from which appeared yesterday in the Sunday Times. Darling had been relishing the prospect of putting his side of the story of Gordon Brown's years in power, which he has kept notoriously quiet from journalists.

Last Thursday Darling woke to find that snippets of his book had been leaked on the pro-Labour website, Labour Uncut. "Brutal and volcanic", was his description of Brown. Darling cites Tony Blair warning him that "dealing with GB [Gordon Brown] is like having dental treatment with no anaesthetic". Ed Balls, meanwhile, was said to be running a "parallel" operation to Darling's own at the Treasury between 2007-10. Bank of England Governor, Mervyn King, is described as "amazingly stubborn and exasperating".

But when the authorised extracts appeared yesterday they were considerably less spicy. I have yet to see the book, though one can safely predict that it is the most volatile extracts that have been published.

One can conclude, then, that these memoirs are far more downbeat than the sensational stories of last week suggested that they might be.

So what might we learn? We have an honest and authentic account of Brown's extraordinarily turbulent three-year premiership written by one of the most honourable and humane men to have been in politics in the past 25 years. Darling is a sensitive man, and one can feel in his writing the pain and humiliation that he repeatedly experienced.

He acknowledges that he was not Brown's preference for Chancellor -- that was Ed Balls -- and that he was only given the job through political expediency. He takes us through the main peaks and troughs of those three years, including the fatal decision not to hold a general election in the autumn of 2007, the budgets and spending reviews, and the financial crisis of 2008-09, offering as calm and accurate an account as is ever likely to be written. Many of the details are already known but it is valuable to have Darling's own account of them.

Here is a man loyal to his fingertips, which explains why he never went further in publicly challenging Brown and, to his credit, didn't replicate the leaking operation against Number 10 that Brown sanctioned in his own 10-year stint in the Treasury.

He tells us that he was never party to any plotting to get rid of Brown, which puzzled me a little as I rather thought he had given more of a green light to his close friend Geoff Hoon in the January 2010 plot than he suggests here.

Had there been a clear alternative Prime Minister he would have been more ready to have spoken up, he writes. Let us not forget though that he was Brown's underwriter: one public word that the Chancellor couldn't work with the Prime Minister and Brown would have fallen, such was the febrile state of Brown's hold on power all the way through from his failure to call the election in October 2007 to his departure in May 2010. …

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