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Friday, 8 June 2012
This book is Alistair Darling's tales of his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have read quite a few books on the characters in New Labour.

Darling had a reputation as a safe pair of hands, and I suspect that relatively few people would have remember the roles he had prior to becoming Chancellor, and the book does not really cover this period. It starts when he was appointed after Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. He seems himself as being a mere stop-gap whilst Gordon Brown manoeuvred Ed Balls into the post. Darling face quite a lot of challenges to stay in the post.

Darling is critical several key characters:-

Governor of the Bank of England who he regarded as out of touch and behind the curve. He was more concerned about fighting inflation and was wary about bailing out banks as they would be encourage to continue their risky lending

Bankers - their excessive risk taking caused the banking collapse. He seems to regard the banks as blind to the risk that they were taking, and the fact that the whole banking system was interlinked so they would all sink or swim together. He is also morally against the high levels of pay they received.

Gordon Brown - a man who he believed underestimated the size of the crisis until rather too late, although he ultimately gives him credit for creating the international consensus to recapitalise banks.

Darling starts the book at the beginning of the collapse and so can take little responsibility for a recession that had already started. But it seems that there are few places in the book whilst he admits that he made mistakes. The timescale of the book means New Labour's Iraq war is not discussed.

The book is quite critical of Gordon Brown's leadership, but Darling did little about it at the time. He did not take part in any of the plots to remove Gordon Brown, but equally did not quite give him 100% support. Like many in the cabinet they rather seemed to hope someone else would weld the dagger, but it never happened. The result of many of these plots was it allowed Darling to remain as Chancellor while Ed Balls had to wait on the sidelines, unable to step in as Darling could not be pushed aside.

I guess the one thing that is interesting is that beyond an interest in "fairness" and the idea that governments can help people in their lives he does not seem especially ideological. Darling is perhaps a Blairite in the Brown/Blair divide. Yet he rarely seemed to disagree on policy and it was often more around presentation of the facts. The overall impression is that the debates within New Labour were largely all around personality rather than politics.