Alistair Darling

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The Right Honourable
Alistair Darling
MP
AlistairDarlingABr cropped.jpg
Chair of the Better Together Campaign
Incumbent
Assumed office
1 June 2012
Preceded by Office created
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
11 May 2010 – 8 October 2010
Leader Harriet Harman
Ed Miliband
Preceded by George Osborne
Succeeded by Alan Johnson
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
28 June 2007 – 11 May 2010
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Preceded by Gordon Brown
Succeeded by George Osborne
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
In office
5 May 2006 – 27 June 2007
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Alan Johnson
Succeeded by John Hutton (at BERR)
Secretary of State for Scotland
In office
13 June 2003 – 5 May 2006
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Helen Liddell
Succeeded by Douglas Alexander
Secretary of State for Transport
In office
29 May 2002 – 5 May 2006
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Stephen Byers (at TLGR)
Succeeded by Douglas Alexander
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
In office
3 May 1997 – 27 July 1998
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by William Waldegrave
Succeeded by Stephen Byers
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
In office
25 July 1996 – 3 May 1997
Leader Tony Blair
Preceded by Harriet Harman
Succeeded by David Heathcoat-Amory
Member of Parliament
for Edinburgh South West
Edinburgh Central (1987–2005)
Incumbent
Assumed office
11 June 1987
Preceded by Alexander MacPherson Fletcher
Majority 8,447 (18.6)
Personal details
Born (1953-11-28) 28 November 1953 (age 60)
Hendon, Middlesex, England
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Margaret Vaughan
Children 2
Residence Edinburgh
Great Bernera (Private)
Alma mater University of Aberdeen

Alistair Darling (born 28 November 1953) is a British Labour Party politician who has been a member of parliament (MP) since 1987, currently for Edinburgh South West. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2007 to 2010. Darling was one of only three people to have served in the Cabinet continuously from Labour's victory in 1997 until its defeat in 2010 (the others being Gordon Brown and Jack Straw).

Darling was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1997, moving to become Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in 1998. Spending four years at the department, he spent another four years as Secretary of State for Transport, also becoming Secretary of State for Scotland in 2003. Prime Minister Tony Blair moved Darling for a final time, to Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in 2006, before Gordon Brown promoted Darling to Chancellor in 2007.

Darling is the leader of the Better Together cross-party group that are campaigning for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.[1]

Early life[edit]

Alistair Darling was born in London[2] the son of a civil engineer, Thomas, and his wife, Anna MacLean. He is the great-nephew of Sir William Darling, a Conservative-Unionist Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South (1945–1957). He was educated in Kirkcaldy, and the independent Loretto School,[3] in Musselburgh, then attended the University of Aberdeen where he was awarded a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B). He became the President of Aberdeen University Students' Representative Council.

Before joining the Labour Party at the age of 23 in 1977, Darling was a supporter of the International Marxist Group, the British section of the Trotskyist Fourth International.[4] He became a solicitor in 1978, then changed course for the Scots bar and was admitted as an advocate in 1984. He was elected as a councillor to the Lothian Regional Council in 1982 where he supported large rates rises in defiance of Margaret Thatcher's rate-capping laws and even threatened not to set a rate at all.[4] He served on the council until he was elected to Parliament. He was also a board member for the Lothian and Borders Police and became a governor of Napier College in 1985 for two years.

Member of Parliament[edit]

He entered Parliament at the 1987 General Election in Edinburgh Central defeating the sitting Conservative MP Sir Alexander Fletcher by 2,262 votes, and has remained an MP since then.

After the creation of the Scottish Parliament the number of Scottish seats at Westminster was reduced, and his Edinburgh Central seat was abolished. Since the 2005 election he has represented Edinburgh South West. The Labour Party was so concerned that Darling might be defeated, several senior party figures, including Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Chancellor Gordon Brown, made encouragement trips to the constituency during the election campaign. Despite being a senior Cabinet minister himself, Darling was hardly seen outside the area, as he was making the maximum effort to win his seat. In the event, he won it with a majority of 7,242 over the second-placed Conservative candidate, a 16.49% margin on a 65.4% turnout.

Shadow Cabinet[edit]

As a backbencher he sponsored the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1988.[5] He soon became an Opposition Home Affairs spokesman in 1988 on the frontbench of Neil Kinnock.

After the 1992 General Election he became a spokesman on Treasury Affairs until being promoted to Tony Blair's Shadow Cabinet as the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1996.

In government[edit]

Following the 1997 General Election he entered Cabinet as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In 1998 he was made the Secretary of State for Social Security replacing Harriet Harman who had been dismissed. After the 2001 General Election, the Department of Social Security was abolished and replaced with the new Department for Work and Pensions, which also took employment away from the education portfolio, Darling fronted the new department until 2002 when he was repositioned to the Department for Transport, in the event of his predecessor Stephen Byers resigning.

Secretary of State for Transport[edit]

Darling was given a brief to "take the department out of the headlines". He oversaw the creation of Network Rail, the successor to Railtrack, which had collapsed in controversial circumstances for which his predecessor was largely blamed. He also procured the passage of the legislation – the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 – which abolished the Rail Regulator and replaced it with the Office of Rail Regulation. He was responsible for the Railways Act 2005 which abolished the Strategic Rail Authority, a creation of the Labour government under the Transport Act 2000. Darling was also responsible for the cancellation of several major Light Rail schemes. While Transport Secretary he was voted Britain's most boring politician two years in a row.[6]

Although he was not at the Department for Transport at the time of the collapse of Railtrack, Darling vigorously defended what had been done in a speech to the House of Commons on 24 October 2005. This included the making of threats to the independent Rail Regulator that if he intervened to defend the company against the government's attempts to force it into railway administration – a special status for insolvent railway companies – the government would introduce emergency legislation to take the regulator under direct political control. This stance by Darling surprised many observers because during his tenure at the Department for Transport he had made several statements to Parliament and the financial markets assuring them that the government regarded independence in economic regulation of the railways as essential.

Secretary of State for Scotland[edit]

In 2003, when the Scotland Office was folded into the Department for Constitutional Affairs, he was made Scottish Secretary in combination with his transport portfolio.

Secretary of State for Trade and Industry[edit]

In the Cabinet reshuffle of May 2006, he was moved to the position of Secretary of State for Trade and Industry; Douglas Alexander replaced him as both Secretary of State for Transport and Secretary of State for Scotland. On 10 November 2006 in a mini-reshuffle, Malcolm Wicks, the Minister for Energy at the Department of Trade and Industry and therefore one of Darling's junior ministers, was appointed Minister for Science. Darling took over day-to-day control of the Energy portfolio.

Chancellor of the Exchequer[edit]

Alistair Darling with Christine Lagarde and Timothy Geithner in Istanbul.

In June 2007, the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed Darling Chancellor of the Exchequer, a promotion widely anticipated in the media. Journalists observed that three of Darling's four junior ministers at the Treasury (Angela Eagle, Jane Kennedy and Kitty Ussher) were female and dubbed his team, "Darling's Darlings".[7]

In September 2007, for the first time since 1860, there was a run on a British bank, Northern Rock. Although the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority have jurisdiction in such cases, ultimate authority for deciding on financial support for a bank in exceptional circumstances rests with the Chancellor. The 2007 subprime mortgage financial crisis had caused a liquidity crisis in the UK banking industry, and Northern Rock was unable to borrow as required by its business model. Darling authorised the Bank of England to lend Northern Rock funds to cover its liabilities and provided an unqualified taxpayers' guarantee of the deposits of savers in Northern Rock in an attempt to stop the run. Northern Rock borrowed up to £20 billion from the Bank of England,[8] and Darling was criticised for becoming sucked into a position where so much public money was tied up in a private company.[9]

In March 2008, Alistair Darling was criticised in some circles for the Budget by a media campaign spread by a social networking site. James Hughes, a landlord in Edinburgh, symbolically barred Darling from his pub, and a passing reporter from the Edinburgh Evening News ran the story. A Facebook group was created, leading dozens of pubs across Britain to follow Hughes, barring Darling from their pubs.[10] The story was eventually picked up by most national press and broadcast media in Britain, and leader of the opposition cited the movement at Prime Minister's Questions on 26 March.[11]

Child benefit data scandal[edit]

Darling was Chancellor when the personal, confidential and entrusted details of over 25 million British citizens went missing while being sent from his department to the National Audit Office. A former Scotland Yard detective stated that with the current rate of £2.50 per person's details this data could have been sold for £60 million.[12] The acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, put the value at £1.5bn, or £60 per identity.[13]

Storm warning[edit]

In an interview in The Guardian[14] published 30 August 2008, Alistair Darling warned, "The economic times we are facing... are arguably the worst they've been in 60 years. And I think it's going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought." His blunt warning led to confusion within the Labour Party. However, Darling insisted that it was his duty to be "straight" with people.[15]

Budget 2008[edit]

On 12 March 2008, Darling gave his first budget in the House of Commons.

10% income tax band[edit]

Darling's predecessor, Gordon Brown, before becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, axed the 10% starting rate on income tax and reduced the basic rate income tax band from 22% to 20%, in his final budget on 21 March 2007, to come into effect in the tax year starting 6 April 2008. This was not amended in Darling's 2008 budget. Although the majority of tax payers would become marginally better off as a result of these changes, around 5.1 million low earners (including those earning less than £18,000) would have financially suffered. On 18 October 2007, the Treasury released statistics which established that childless persons on low incomes could lose up to £200 a year as a result of the changes, while parents and those earning more than £20,000 would gain money.

Increasing political backlash to the additional tax burden put immense pressure onto the government including the new chancellor Darling with Gordon Brown facing criticism from his own Parliamentary Labour party. On 13 May 2008 Darling announced he would help low-paid workers hit by the scrapping of the 10p rate, by raising this year's personal tax allowance by £600 funded by borrowing £2.7 billion.[16]

Stimulus spending[edit]

To boost falling demand, the government announced an additional £20bn spending package. Subsequently, Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, warned the government against further stimulus spending, due to insecure public finances.[17]

Budget 2009[edit]

On 22 April 2009 Darling delivered his second budget speech in the House of Commons. To stimulate the motor industry, a £2,000 allowance was announced for a car more than 10 years old, if it was traded in for a new car. A 50% tax band was announced for earners of over £150,000 to start the following tax year.[18]

Budget 2010[edit]

Gordon Brown confirmed on 10 March 2010 that Alistair Darling would deliver his Third budget before the general election,[19] and this budget was delivered on 24 March 2010.[20]

Later activities[edit]

Following the defeat of the Labour Party in the 2010 general election, Darling announced that he intended to leave front bench politics. On 17 May 2010 it was reported that he stated: "It has been an honour and a tremendous privilege but I believe it is time for me to return to the backbenches from where I shall look after, with great pride, the constituents of Edinburgh South West."[21]

Darling suggested on 7 September 2010 on the Daily Politics show, that he was only intending to take a "year out" and may possibly reconsider his future.[22]

Expenses claims[edit]

In May 2009, The Daily Telegraph reported that Darling changed the designation of his second home four times in four years, allowing him to claim for the costs of his family home in Edinburgh, and to buy and furnish a flat in London including the cost of stamp duty and other legal fees. Darling said that "the claims were made within House of Commons rules".[23][24]

Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, criticised him by saying: "given that very unique responsibility that [Darling] has [as Chancellor], it's simply impossible for him to continue in that role when such very major question marks are being raised about his financial affairs". A former chairman and treasurer of the Scottish Labour Party described Darling's position as "untenable" and said that "[Darling] certainly shouldn't be in the Cabinet".[25]

On 1 June 2009, Darling apologised "unreservedly" about a mistaken claim for £700, and had agreed to repay the money. He was supported by the Prime Minister, who referred to the incident as an inadvertent mistake.[26]

In 2010 he resigned from the Faculty of Advocates as they were investigating his financial affairs.[27]

Better Together campaign[edit]

Darling is the chair and one of the directors of the Better Together campaign, which is campaigning for a 'No' vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. He was involved in the campaign's launch in June 2012, delivered a speech on the subject in the annual John P Mackintosh lecture in November 2012, and addressed a fringe meeting at the Scottish Conservative Conference in June 2013.[28] In August 2014 Darling took part in Scotland Decides: Salmond versus Darling, a televised debate with First Minister Alex Salmond on the pros and cons of Scottish Independence.[29]

Darling has been criticised by some Scottish Labour MPs and supporters who believe that working with Conservatives on the Better Together campaign might damage Labour's prospects in Scotland.[30]

Personal life[edit]

Darling had a brief previous marriage when young,[31] but has been married to former journalist Margaret McQueen Vaughan since 1986; the couple have a son (Calum, born 1988) and daughter (Anna, born 1990). Margaret Vaughan worked for Radio Forth, the Daily Record and Glasgow Herald until Labour's election victory in 1997. Darling's media adviser, the former Herald political journalist, Catherine MacLeod, is a close friend of Vaughan and Darling, as well as being a long-standing Labour Party supporter. A sister Jane works as a cook and lives in Edinburgh. Darling has admitted to smoking cannabis in his youth.[32]

He enjoys listening to Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Leonard Cohen and recently American rock band The Killers.[33]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Scottish independence: Darling launches Better Together campaign". BBC News. 24 June 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  2. ^ "Darling, Alistair". The Guardian (London). [dead link]
  3. ^ "Some former pupils show the way". The Herald. Glasgow. 6 October 1998. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 
  4. ^ a b p5, Private Eye no. 1218, 5–18 September 2008
  5. ^ "Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1988 (c. 42)". 
  6. ^ "The boring list: 20 titans of tedium". The Independent (London). 14 March 2008. 
  7. ^ "Simon Hoggart's sketch: Darling, you're so dreary". The Guardian (London). 13 July 2007. Retrieved 25 March 2010. 
  8. ^ "US private equity firm eyes Rock". BBC News. 26 October 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  9. ^ "Northern Rock & Virgin: who wins?". BBC News. 26 November 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  10. ^ "Alistair Darling You're Barred". Facebook. [dead link]
  11. ^ Wooding, David (26 March 2008). "Pub landlords set about barring Chancellor from every boozer in Britain". The Sun (London).  See also: Hope, Christopher (26 March 2008). "Ban Alistair Darling from every British pub". The Telegraph (London).  andBalakrishnan, Angela (26 March 2008). "You're barred, pub campaigners tell chancellor". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 25 March 2010.  and"Campaign launched to ban the Chancellor from every pub in the countryLatest Scottish news and headlines from Scotland". stv.tv. [dead link]
  12. ^ "Fraud Risk To Millions After 'Catastrophic' Records Blunder". [dead link]
  13. ^ "Discs 'worth £1.5bn' to criminals". BBC. 28 November 2007. Retrieved 11 August 2008. 
  14. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (29 August 2008). "Storm warning". The Guardian (London). Archived from the original on 2 March 2010. Retrieved 25 March 2010. 
  15. ^ Oakeshott, Isabel; Smith, David (31 August 2008). "Labour in turmoil over Alistair Darling gaffe". The Times (London). Retrieved 25 March 2010. 
  16. ^ Webster, Philip (14 May 2008). "Gordon Brown pays £2.7 billion to end 10p tax crisis". The Times (London). Retrieved 25 March 2010. 
  17. ^ Britain cannot afford any further fiscal stimulus, King warns Kathryn Hopkins, The Guardian, Tuesday 24 March 2009 15.33 GMT
  18. ^ "At-a-glance: Budget 2009". BBC. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  19. ^ "Gordon Brown warns economic storm not over". BBC News. 10 March 2010. Retrieved 14 July 2010. 
  20. ^ "Chancellor Alistair Darling opens the Budget". British Broadcasting Company. 24 March 2010. Retrieved 24 March 2010. 
  21. ^ "Darling leaves frontbench politics after more than 20 years", Times Online, 17 May 2010[dead link]
  22. ^ "Ex-Chancellor Alistair Darling: 'I am taking a year out'". BBC News. 7 September 2010. 
  23. ^ "MPs' expenses claims – key details". BBC News. 19 June 2009. Archived from the original on 11 May 2009. Retrieved 13 May 2009. 
  24. ^ Watt, Holly (8 May 2009). "Daily Telegraph: Alistair Darling". The Daily Telegraph (London). Archived from the original on 11 May 2009. Retrieved 13 May 2009. 
  25. ^ Winnett, Robert; Watt, Holly (13 May 2009). "MPs' expenses: Alistair Darling billed us for two homes at the same time". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  26. ^ "Darling 'very sorry' over claim". BBC. 1 June 2009. Archived from the original on 5 June 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2009. 
  27. ^ "Alistair Darling resigns from law body as it investigates his conduct - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. 11 January 2010. Retrieved 14 July 2014. 
  28. ^ Scottish Tory Party conference: Labour's Darling delivers pro-Union message bbc.co.uk, 8 June 2013
  29. ^ "Scottish debate: Salmond and Darling in angry clash over independence". The Guardian. 5 August 2014. 
  30. ^ "Labour figures shun Better Together over Tory role – Top stories". The Scotsman. 2 July 2013. Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  31. ^ Joe Murphy "Cabinet's own marriage failures force retreat on traditional wedlock", The Daily Telegraph, 14 January 2001
  32. ^ Mason, Rowena (1 July 2012). "I smoked marijuana, admits Chuka Umunna". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  33. ^ Rumbelow, Helen; Webster, Philip; Harding, James (22 September 2007). "Alistair Darling: The man who stepped into limelight on the darkest of all Mondays". The Times (London). Retrieved 25 March 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Darling, Alistair (2011). Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11. Atlantic Books. ISBN 0857892797. 
  • Torrance, David (2006). The Scottish Secretaries. Birlinn Publishers. ISBN 978-1-84158-476-8. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Alex Fletcher
Member of Parliament for Edinburgh Central
19872005
constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South West
1987–present
Incumbent
Political offices
Preceded by
William Waldegrave
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
1997–1998
Succeeded by
Stephen Byers
Preceded by
Harriet Harman
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
1998–2002
Succeeded by
Andrew Smith
Preceded by
Stephen Byers
Secretary of State for Transport
2002–2006
Succeeded by
Douglas Alexander
Preceded by
Helen Liddell
Secretary of State for Scotland
2003–2006
Preceded by
Alan Johnson
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
2006–2007
Succeeded by
John Hutton
Preceded by
Gordon Brown
Chancellor of the Exchequer
2007–2010
Succeeded by
George Osborne
Second Lord of the Treasury
2007–2010