Darling’s knife is out for Brown

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by a Newsnet reporter

Score settling amonst the Labour party’s top figures continued this week as advance excerpts from Alistair Darling’s memoirs reveal the book will launch into an extraordinary attack on former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  Darling’s book illustrates how the former PM’s tenure in office was marked by frequent fights amidst a poisonous atmosphere of suspicion and infighting between supposed party colleagues.

Darling describes the former PM as “brutal and volcanic” and claims that he was in deep denial about the gravity of the financial crisis throughout 2008 and 2009.  Darling also confirms reports, strongly denied at the time, that in 2009 Brown tried to remove Darling from the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer to replace him with his henchman Ed Balls.  After a stand up row, Darling refused to move and forced Brown to back down, exposing his weakness within the party.

By this point the two most senior figures in the Labour government were barely speaking to one another at all, in a repetition of the dysfunctional relationship between 10 Downing St and 11 Downing St when Brown had occupied the post of Chancellor and Tony Blair was PM.  Darling will describe how his attempts to discuss the gravity of the financial crisis and the necessary response to it degenerated into a series of shouting matches between him and Gordon Brown.

Although political disagreements between party colleagues are all a part of a healthy democracy, these events were surrounded by a ferocious and sustained attack on Darling in the media and within the party.  Darling squarely laid the blame for this attack on Gordon Brown and his henchmen, confiding in an interview with Andrew Rawnsley of the Observer newspaper that the PM’s office had “unleashed the forces of hell” against him.

Darling also alleged in the interview that Damien McBride, then Brown’s political spokesman, and Charlie Whelan, political director of the trade union Unite, systematically tried to undermine him.  McBride was later forced to resign over his part in a dirty tricks scandal after it was alleged he proposed to publish lies about opposition politicians and their families on the Internet.  

However perhaps the most damaging revelation so far is that Darling writes how Tony Blair confessed to him that “dealing with Gordon Brown is like having dental treatment with no anaesthetic”.

Darling will also turn his fire on senior bankers.  Fred Goodwin of the Royal Bank of Scotland is a particular target for his ire.  Goodwin was widely criticised for his role in the near-collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and then for retiring with a huge pension.  According to Darling, Goodwin “deserved to be a pariah”.  Darling compares Goodwin’s attitude to the crisis as being more suitable to someone who was “off to play a game of golf”.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Michael Dugher, formerly the chief spokesman for Brown’s office and now the Labour MP for Barnsley East, said: “Alistair Darling could be pretty difficult to deal with, too.  That’s just the way it is.”

Excerpts from the book were leaked to the Labour website Labour Uncut earlier this week though they were quickly withdrawn after legal threats by the publisher.  Titled ‘Back From the Brink: 1,000 Days At No 11’, the book tells of events at the top level of government just 2 to 3 years ago.  

Many of the figures involved are still active in the Labour leadership, most notably Ed Balls.  Darling’s revelations are widely expected to cause them considerable embarrassment and to draw public attention to the fact that the individuals involved in a particularly poisonous and nasty episode in recent political history remain very much a part of Labour’s current leadership.  

In an interview with the BBC yesterday, Ed Balls claimed that he did not want the job of Chancellor in 2009.  He added that while Darling was entitled to write his memoirs, he was focused on his current post as shadow chancellor and was not “revisiting the past”.

Last Thursday, Ed Miliband was asked to comment on the leaked excerpts but declined to make any statement other than to say that Alistair Darling had a “perfect right to write his memoirs and talk about his reflections on his time in office”.