Monday, 5 September 2011

Darling testimony is important

The reaction of the politicos on yesterday's Sunday Supplement to the extracts from Alistair Darling's memoir were "quelle surprise!". The implication was that the battle between Nos. 10 & 11 Downing Street was (a) already common knowledge and (b) ancient history. Well, the fights which raged between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have now been well attested, though one was not sure at the time whether the struggle was between the two principals themselves or between the armies of special advisers which each had built up. The more recent disputes, between Darling and Brown, may well have been accepted as fact in the Westminster village but we ordinary citizens were aware of no more than appeared in the press. It was all too credible, as Labour apparatchiks told us, that these rumours were manufactured by the evil Tory media. Indeed, some of the more sensational "leaks" of last week turn out not to not to be in Darling's book at all.

So the book puts on record not only that infighting between the Prime Minister and Chancellor went on right to the end of the Labour administration, but also Gordon Brown's optimism that the banking crunch would be no more than a temporary check to the "borrow and spend" strategy which he had instituted in 2004. In an interview to coincide with the book launch, Alistair Darling said: "Gordon had decided on an economic strategy built around the proposition that the economy would recover over the next six months." This resulted in Brown briefing ferociously against him when he gave an interview suggesting Britain faced its gloomiest economic outlook for 60 years.

What makes all this still relevant today is that Labour's more responsible chancellor is now on the backbenches and Ed Balls, the unrepentant apostle of "borrow and spend", is the official  opposition Treasury spokesman.

Another interesting insight is this:
 Mr Darling reflects ruefully on the briefings suggesting Mr Brown would call a snap election in autumn 2007. He says: "The problem was that the spin machine was allowed to run out of control and fed the story." He says the confirmation there would be no election was a disaster: "It emerged in a disorganised, haphazard way, on a Saturday afternoon, accompanied by briefings from the bowels of No 10, heaping blame on the supposed author of this misfortune, Douglas Alexander. Who told Damian McBride, Gordon's press secretary, to do this remains opaque. It was extremely hurtful for Douglas, who was a loyal supporter of Gordon."

At the time, and against the official party line, I thought that Brown should not even have toyed with the idea of an early election. It was an unnecessary expense for a parliament which had another eighteen months to run. But even worse was to signal an election, put government and party machinery on standby, then call it off, especially as the ostensible reason was a Conservative surge in opinion ratings on the back of a promise to cut inheritance tax - as if the average voter cared much about inheritance tax. Brown was unnecessarily spooked. A 2007 election would almost certainly have returned another Labour government, albeit with a reduced majority, or at least a parliament in which Liberal Democrats could have supported Labour in return for concessions on civil liberties and more responsible financing.

1 comment:

Frank H Little said...

Of course, Darling is not Simon Pure. He is one of those admitting to "mistakes" over his parliamentary expenses, and a recent Evening Standard city comment is that he is already doing well out of speaking engagements and likely to do better as a result of recent publicity.