Back From The Brink by Alistair Darling
I first became aware of Alistair Darling in the 1970s when I was reading law at the University of Edinburgh. Little did I know what great heights he would reach. He rose to be Chancellor of the Exchequer during the period the Gordon Brown was Prime Minister of the UK. Darling and Brown were not a match made in heaven.One of Gordon Brown’s books, My Scotland: Our Britain, is reviewed on this site: as-far-as-my-f…-james-m-bauer/, Wasted https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/wasted-by-mark-johnson/, Humble Pie Black Like Me https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/black-like-me-…howard-griffin/, https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/the-islamist-by-ed-hussain/, Tuesdays With Morrie https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/tuesdays-with-…by-mitch-albom/, I Don’t Mean To Be Rude But…https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/i-dont-mean-to…y-simon-cowell/, The Prince, The Princess and the Perfect Murder. Other biographies reviewed on this site include: As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/
Darling was born on November 28, 1953 in the Municipal Borough of Hendon in London. After he completed the Loretto School, Musselburgh, Scotland, he was admitted to the University of Aberdeen, Scotland where he graduated in 1976. In 1978, he became a solicitor and in 1984, he was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates (a body of independent lawyers who practise law as Advocates before the Courts of Scotland). Darling entered politics in 1982 when he was elected Councillor to the Lothian Regional Council and served as Chairman of the Transport Committee from 1986 to 1987. In 1987, Darlinghas been a politician all his adult life, He was elected as Member of Parliament for Edinburgh Central and has been elected ever since until 2005 when the Edinburgh Central was abolished. Since 2005, he has been Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South West.
As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling presided over the longest and deepest recession in British History since World War II this included the biggest one-year drop in activity since the early 1920s. Darling was dealt one of the worst hands imaginable. He survived the run on Northern Rock and the enforced nationalisation of a good chunk of the banking network in Britain.
Even so, Darling is a rarity in British politics; a chancellor whose reputation has improved with time. That is due, in part, to his baleful legacy: a structurally weak economy that would be gripped by a systemic financial crisis within six weeks of him taking occupancy of 11 Downing Street, London, England. It is also, in part, it is that Gordon Brown has become the scapegoat for all the failings of the Labour government. However, it also has something to do with the fact that Darling comes across as a thoroughly decent bloke doing his best in the worst of circumstances. That is burnished in this memoir Back From The Brink, which is peppered with tales of the Darling’s endeavours being thwarted by the prime minister, the Bank of England governor and bankers driven by money and power.
Darling suggests, he was only keeping the Treasury seat warm for Ed Balls, who was preferred by Gordon Brown as Chancellor. Darling tells the story of his interview in The Guardian newspaper in the summer of 2008 which, entirely correctly, warned that the global economy was at risk of its most severe downturn in 60 years. This prompted attacks from Brown’s camp.
“My fairly accurate prediction of what was to come economically might have been long forgotten but for the inept briefing machine at No 10”, Darling states. “For that I owe them thanks, which is something I am sure they never anticipated.”
The sub-plot of Back From The Brink details Darling’s strained relationship with Bank of England governor, Sir Mervyn King, makes compelling reading. The two fell out badly over the way to handle the credit crunch, with Darling becoming increasingly frustrated by what he saw as the governor’s old fashioned approach to providing financial support for the banking system.
“Mervyn was careful to cover his pronouncements with caveats, which usually went unreported, but even so he was coming perilously close to crossing a line between legitimate comment and entering the political fray.”
Back From The Brink is not simply a crude attempt to settle scores, however tempting that must have been. Darling sticks his knife into his victims with great deftness. His criticisms of both Gordon Brown and Mervyn King carry more weight because they are leavened with praise where Darling thinks it is due. For example, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, Darling says it was Brown’s force of personality and determination that ensured all the major countries signed up to bailing out the banks. Similarly, King did an “excellent job” in the build-up to the London G20 in April 2009, making sure other central bankers knew what they had to do to boost growth. The overall impression is of a chronicler who tries to be fair and accurate.
Darling’s reputation is as a safe pair of hands but his book does contain some factual mistakes. The Doha round of trade talks began in 2001 not 2002. Alastair Campbell did not leave the government of Tony Blair in 2002; to have done so would have meant him quitting before the start of the Gulf war in 2003. The economy contracted by 4.9% in 2009, not 4.7%. The date when the Royal Bank of Scotland was on the brink of collapse shifts from October 7 2008 (correct) on page one to October 11 (incorrect) on page 12 and it is 6,000 miles from London to Cape Town, not 12,000. These are silly errors which detract a little from a thoroughly readable, and often witty, account of what Darling calls his 1,000 days at Number 11.
Darling does gloss over his responsibility for the flawed system of City regulation that broke down completely during the financial crisis and he never really explains why he did not tell Gordon Brown who was seriously weakened after the “election that never was” in the autumn of 2007. Darling bottled up his resentment at the deplorable way he was treated and is now having his revenge in print. That makes Back from the Brink a really good read.