Posts Tagged ‘Alistair Darling’

Labour urgently needs a new narrative on the economy

20/05/2015, 11:15:22 PM

by Dan Cooke

One thing we learned in the election campaign was that the younger Ed Miliband, while apparently much in demand, was a lousy date who “only wanted to talk about economics”. We also learned something much more serious: the mature Miliband and his advisers were completely wrong to think Labour could win an election without talking about the economy.

The Tory narrative on the economy, before and during the campaign, was so clear and powerful that friend or foe could recite it in their sleep. They had a “long-term economic plan”, that got the economy “back on track” after Labour “crashed the economy” and the “money ran out”. This account of the recent past provided powerful rhetorical support to their forward offer of prosperity for all, including more investment in the NHS than Labour promised.

If this grates with unfairness to many of us, we have to bluntly ask:  did our party ever pose a counter-narrative to challenge this one?  The frank answer is – at least during the campaign – clearly no. The line to take, when it was put to Labour spokespeople that the Tory plan was working, was apparently  to say that the recovery was not felt by all, the proceeds of growth were unevenly distributed or, more abstractly, that the economy was run for the benefit of the rich and not ordinary people.

Unfortunately these were talking points only to avoid talking about what for most people is the central question of economic debate: who can be trusted to deliver growth and jobs. It sounded as though we were saying this did not matter because it was the “wrong growth” and the “wrong jobs”. By building a campaign around issues of how to regulate a successful economy, like banning zero hours contracts, we forfeited the debate on who can be trusted to deliver a successful economy in the first place – in other words the debate that actually decides votes.


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Send for ‘effing Cameron rather than moribund Miliband

11/09/2014, 09:19:36 AM

by David Talbot

The fightback, declared the Labour leader, would start in Scotland. The newly anointed leader was speaking at the Scottish Labour conference of 2010, five months after a crushing general election defeat, but eight months before the next set of Scottish elections. Miliband was clearly eyeing a return to hegemony for Labour in Scotland. The rot, of course, had set in four years before; Labour historically losing control of Holyrood by one seat, and thereby setting in motion the frantic scenes seen seven days before the vote.

The utter failure of the Labour leaders’ words were laid bare when the SNP duly crushed a ramshackle Scottish Labour in 2011. The Prime Minister, from across the Despatch Box, duly took great delight in taunting the Labour’s  failure, though neither would take much delight in the perilous position for either of their parties in Scotland today.

Both Miliband and Cameron have waxed lyrical about their love of Scotland their passionate desire for it to stay as part of the Union. The Labour leader told the Labour conference of 2012 that the referendum on Scottish independence was of more importance to him than the general election. Whilst Cameron signalled early in his leadership of the Conservative party just how sorry he was for Tory misdemeanours in Scotland, vowing to “never take Scotland for granted”.

But as the referendum has unfolded both have largely taken a secondary role in the Better Together campaign. This is true, in part, because the main antagonists in the debate over Scotland’s independence have to be, of course, the Scots themselves. Labour leadership was originally bequeathed to the admirable and worthy, but seemingly failing, Alistair Darling, with the forlorn figure of Gordon Brown now returning to stomp around frontline politics. Miliband, until very recently, has been remarkable mainly for his absence in the Labour effort.

The situation for Cameron was all the clearer. He wasn’t welcome. The SNP dearly want to turn the referendum into a Scotland versus the English Conservatives vote, and there is only one outcome. The Prime Minister acknowledged as such when he understatedly said earlier on this year that his electoral appeal did not reach into every corner of the Union.


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Ed Miliband should resign if Scotland votes Yes

08/09/2014, 11:00:27 AM

by Samuel Dale

It’s Friday September 19th, Alex Salmond is walking onto a podium in Edinburgh with Saltires waving all around him.

The autumn sunshine glistens as the camera pans to Nicola Sturgeon’s tears of joy as the lifelong dream of Scottish independence has become a reality.

It was nail-bitingly close but the polls narrowed in the final days.

Labour voters swung it with a 51-49 victory for the Yes campaign.

The UK is in shock. The markets are in turmoil as confusion reigns over currency, the EU, debt, financial regulation, tax and much else.

Next year’s general election has been rendered almost meaningless.

The UK has lost 8 million citizens in one stroke. It’s economic power catastrophically diminished. Already the blame game has begun with many calling for David Cameron to quit.

He has presided over the break-up of the UK and already he is struggling to get a grip on the ensuing chaos.

But what more could he do? Despised in Scotland he had, rightly, kept an arms’ length from the campaign only intervening in a careful, limited way.

So what about Alistair Darling? He led the Better Together campaign, taking part in public debates with Alex Salmond.

He must take some blame for a very winnable campaign that failed.

But the most blame would have to go to one man: Ed Miliband.

It was the hapless Labour campaign for the Scottish Parliament in 2011 that let the SNP in power.
It is a disaster that Miliband oversaw but has never been fully held to account for within Labour circles.

For the SNP to gain a majority required Labour ineptitude on a grand scale.

Ever since, Labour has provided woeful opposition to the SNP in Scotland.

Since the referendum campaign began it has been crystal clear that Labour voters would decide the vote.

Unlike David Cameron, Miliband had a chance to convince his own supporters and turn the referendum.

He did not intervene often enough or effectively in the campaign.

The consequences for Labour are severe. Shadow ministers such as Douglas Alexander and Gregg McClymont will not be MPs for much longer.

Stalwarts such as Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown have no official future in the UK parliament.

Losing dozens of MPs, Labour will find it much, much harder to gain power in the UK. It’s heartlands have been moved to another country.

All this was entirely preventable if the party had kept it’s eye on the ball north of the border.
And if it provided better opposition to the SNP and convinced it’s own supporters during the referendum campaign.

Labour lost this crucial campaign and Ed Miliband should pay the price and resign.

Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist

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If Johnson and Darling return to Labour’s frontbench, two other men are out

18/08/2014, 03:33:16 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The continuing chatter about whether Alan Johnson should return to the shadow cabinet prompts the intriguing question: where would Ed Miliband put him?

In government, Johnson held a number of senior roles including stints as secretary of state for work and pensions, education, health and a final stint as home secretary. As one of Labour’s best known faces, he would surely command a decent perch.

None of his previous postings, however, looks a likely bet. Rising stars Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt are making inroads in the welfare and education briefs while Andy Burnham at health and Yvette Cooper at home affairs are too powerful to move without causing Ed Miliband a major headache. Both are solid performers and harbour leadership hopes if Miliband doesn’t manage to cross the threshold of Number Ten next May.

The remaining top roles, shadowing the Treasury and the Foreign Office, are filled by Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander. And they aren’t going anywhere.

Miliband may calculate that he can move anyone he likes in the interests of bringing back a popular figure like Johnson to add weight to his team ahead of the general election. Of course, the dilemma will be doubled if Alastair Darling also returns – assuming the ‘No’ campaign he is leading in Scotland prevails next month.

Johnson’s attributes are obvious enough. A natural communicator, his easy-going, man-in-the-street style contrasts sharply with the crafted but stilted approach of most of the rest of the shadow cabinet. No-one describes him as weird or boring.


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Bring on the éminences grises

16/07/2014, 09:42:18 AM

by Rob Marchant

As silly-season reshuffle madness has gripped the Westminster village the last few days, we at Uncut are obviously above pointless speculation about the Labour reshuffle expected after Conference.

Well, almost. In fact, it’s not so much speculation, rather an observation.

If we were to be brutal, we might observe that both government and opposition benches, if the lights are dim, might occasionally be mistaken for a sixth-form outing to Parliament, rather than a government and a government-in-waiting.

It’s nothing personal against the current bunch. There is talent there. But much of the talent is green. And yes, there is ministerial experience among it – it’s not 1997. But – and excuse the bluntness here – there might also be more important pre-requisites than having held a junior ministerial or middle-ranking Cabinet job for a few years during the fag-end of a thirteen-year Labour administration.

Neither is it just that so many older MPs left in droves at the 2010 election, either, although that is clearly a factor. Or that some of the talented ones who remained, such as David Blunkett or Tessa Jowell, were not given proper jobs to do and chose to opt for a quiet life outside Parliament.

The clincher is this: as we have observed before here, we live in the age of the SpAd (ministerial Special Adviser). The gradual professionalization of politics means that the number of years that any of the current Shadow Cabinet has spent in the outside world is severely limited.


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Its Labour’s fault there’s no-one as good as Salmond

24/04/2014, 10:08:10 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Alastair Darling has many qualities. He was an effective minister, a mainstay throughout Labour’s years in power and as Chancellor, he steered the economy through the worst recession since the 1930s, leaving behind a growing economy in 2010. He is widely respected and admired. But as a campaigner, he makes David Moyes look like Jose Mourinho.

He is so ill-suited to leading the cross-party campaign to galvanise Scots behind the simple proposition that they are “Better Together” with their kith and kin in the rest of the union that the No campaign against Scottish independence looks set to snatch defeat from the jaws of what should, on paper, be an easy victory.

Yet a vote for independence is now a real possibility – with a poll last weekend putting the Yes campaign just three per cent behind the No campaign, a once unthinkable prospect. (To put this in context, a poll last November had the No camp leading by a margin of 29 per cent).

This is a calamitous situation with the polling numbers now starting to reflect what is all too evident to anyone watching this referendum battle unfold: The Westminster class has badly underestimated Alex Salmond.

Frankly, it has paid too little attention to Caledonian affairs in general in recent years, wrongly assuming the devolution settlement of 1998 was the end of the line as far as Scottish nationhood goes. This has left opponents of independence with a strategic problem. There is simply no equivalent Scottish figure now able to make the case for retaining the Union with the same panache Salmond displays in trying to break it up.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK and leader of the most swivel-eyed pro-Union party in British politics, can barely open his mouth on the subject without sending undecided voters flocking towards the independence camp.

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, southern English and middle-class are clearly deemed surplus to requirements and have the good sense to stay out of it. Labour’s Scottish Leader, Johann Lamont, is tough and said to get under Salmond’s skin, but she is a provincial figure in comparison.


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A tale of two very different Guardian interviews: Darling and Burnham

13/08/2013, 10:54:24 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Decca Aitkenhead reported this weekend on Andy Burnham telling her that Labour must shout louder or risk election defeat. Some twitter reaction suggests that this would help Labour on the doorstep. As with Chris Bryant’s Monday morning Today appearance, we might wonder, however, whether it is content more than volume that is causing Labour to fail the Daz doorstep challenge.

Almost exactly five years ago, Aitkenhead interviewed Alistair Darling. Maybe there is something about the summer heat that causes Labour politicians to unbutton themselves around her. “Now Alistair,” Aitkenhead records his political advisor imploring when they sat down for the interview, “tell her everything. Make sure you tell her everything.”

This instruction implies, unsurprisingly, prior calculation. And for all the conviction that Burnham was eager to display to Aitkenhead – for the NHS and for comprehensive schools, in particular – we should probably also assume, as is the way of serious politics, calculation on the part of Burnham. We might, therefore, wonder what the calculations of Burnham and Darling were intended to accomplish.

“No one had any idea,” Darling replied when asked whether anyone had anticipated the scale of the financial crisis that was still unfolding at the time of his interview. He warned that the economic climate of 2008 was “arguably the worst … in 60 years. And I think it’s going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought.”

This remains the weakest economy on record and, as Mark Carney noted last week in his first press conference in charge of the Bank of England, those records go back more than one hundred years.

This speaks amply of Darling’s prescience. We might wonder whether so many would now blame Labour for the state of the economy if we’d done a better job in 2008 of getting across what Darling’s interview sought to communicate: we’re being hit by a unprecedented, global shock, which we must travel a long, hard road to recover from.

Darling was doing what Labour does at our best: being honest with the country about the scale of the challenges that confront us and providing leadership to meet them. He was, however, rewarded with “the forces of hell” from Gordon Brown’s operation next door. Presumably, they either didn’t accept that things were as bleak as Darling contended (but Carney’s assessment bears out Darling’s judgment) or reasoned that to acknowledge as much would reflect badly on Labour (but while reality can’t be denied, as Bryant discovered, it can be explained, and better in terms of the inefficiencies of global capitalism than the Labour government).


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Labour will need both Darling and Johnson at the next election

02/04/2013, 08:18:51 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Unity should run through Labour like a stick of rock. Following David Miliband’s departure, we should reflect on what this might mean for figures like Alistair Darling and Alan Johnson in the general election campaign.

It seems that Ed Miliband left the door open for his brother to serve on his frontbench but David preferred to run the International Rescue Committee. It also seems to me that Jonathan Freedland has called this correctly by saying this was the best decision for David but may not be for Labour.

Things are not quite so desperate that all Ed can offer the British people is blood, toil, tears and sweat. But it might not be so far off. We are in the slowest economic recovery on record and the fiscal position becomes ever more horrific.

The only quick and easy road for Ed will be to the kind of unhappy position of Francois Hollande, which he created for himself by having “rather pretended to the French that he and they wouldn’t have to make any difficult choices”, as Andrew Rawnsley put it.

We should level with people that life under PM Ed will be a hard slog. But less so than under this government because of the one nation approach that Ed would bring to his task. Yet Gaby Hinsliff has observed of this thematic frame:

“For all I know it may embrace raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, and feel warmly towards brown paper packages tied up with string: it’s not that these ideas are impossibly contradictory, just that cramming too many of them beneath one umbrella term renders it faintly meaningless.”


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Sunday review: Back from the brink, by Alistair Darling

11/09/2011, 11:16:44 AM

by Anthony Painter

Like the Kennedy assassination, new camera angles on the decline and fall of Labour in office will be discovered for many years to come. What’s more, each new piece of undisclosed footage will end with the same dreadful, bloody result. So why do we do it to ourselves? We just can’t help it.

The latest offering from a senior Labour figure, the ‘never knowingly over-optimistic’, Alistair Darling’s Back from the

"A wise voice of reason"

brink has the same literary merit as the others in the genre: structure and style are put in the service of proving a point. But like the chick lit, executive biography or self-help genres (the political memoir may be a subset of this latter category- for the author) it is not full-throttle, florid prose that is the attraction. The author gets to have their say, settle a few scores and we get to vicariously sit in the room while momentous decisions are made.

Perhaps only Chris Mullin’s diaries would be worth recommending to a non-Westminster obsessed friend amongst the New Labour memoirs. For the rest, twenty minutes in the company of exclusive in the Sunday Times would be enough. None of this is particular to Darling; it should be clear by now that this is not my favourite genre. If it’s your taste then Back from the Brink is no better or worse than most of the others.

The Alistair Darling who emerges from these pages is decent, honourable, intelligent, courageous, and resolute. He’s rather like Alistair Darling in fact: very likeable and engaging. When events have subsequently proved him right, he makes his point and then moves on. There is no great crescendo of self-justification. But there’s no real mea culpa either. We simply see things- most of which we knew already- from his perspective. Kennedy gets shot and dies. (more…)

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Who’s the nasty party now?

04/09/2011, 12:30:34 PM

by David Talbot

As Tory activists gathered in Bournemouth in October 2002, for what was regarded as a critical make-or-break conference for Iain Duncan Smith, few were thinking about his newly appointed chairwoman, Theresa May. But whilst Duncan Smith was wasting everyone’s time, meekly proclaiming himself “the quiet man” of politics, May delivered a speech to a stunned audience that would have profound ramifications for British politics.

In a particularly hard-hitting passage, May said it was time for the Conservatives to face up to the “uncomfortable truth” about the way they were perceived by the public as the “nasty party”. Her description of a party that had sunk into corruption, incestuous feuding and outright bigotry, was devastating precisely because it was accurate. If you didn’t dislike the Conservatives, you simply weren’t trying.

It left an indelible mark on the party. Cameron’s entire strategy, since his election as leader in 2005, could been summed up by self-conscious efforts at “decontamination”. Hence an acceptance of the critique from the left about the party, and total and absolute submission to their fundamental framing of the terms of British political debate. Cameron didn’t get to be leader of his party without grasping, from personal and political experience, that the 21st century Tories could never afford, whatever other battles they might be prepared to fight, to be seen as the nasty party. And Labour desperately wants to revive this sobriquet that Cameron spent years of his leadership escaping.

Jonathan Powell in The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World, weaves the maxims of the legendary Florentine civil servant to the proceedings he witnessed as Blair’s chief of staff in Downing Street from 1997-2007. It’s part of a surge of well-researched books relating to the disturbing saga of the politics at the top of the Labour party that was so unspeakably vicious that it interfered with the business of government. (more…)

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