UK Politics

Darling tells of 'fundamental disagreements' with Brown

  • 4 September 2011
  • From the section UK Politics
  • comments

Alistair Darling has spoken of the "fundamental disagreement" he had with Gordon Brown over key economic policies during the last Labour government.

The ex-chancellor told the BBC he was the victim of "debilitating" attacks by No 10 and accused of "exaggerating" the severity of the 2008 financial crisis.

Mr Darling, whose memoirs are published next week, also claimed Mr Brown had "ignored" the problem of the deficit.

But another colleague said Mr Brown had shown "great leadership" at the time.

Mr Darling served as Mr Brown's chancellor between 2007 and 2010, a period during which tensions between the two men increased markedly.

In his memoirs - serialised by the Sunday Times before their publication on Wednesday - Mr Darling claims Mr Brown believed the banking crisis could be over within six months while the then chancellor was of the opinion it risked an "absolute meltdown".

'Unpleasant attacks'

Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr programme, Mr Darling said there was a lack of "complete unity" between him and the prime minister, comparing their relationship to that between Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson during the 1980s.

"Relations between myself and Gordon became progressively more difficult," he said.

"We had a fundamental disagreement in 2008 as to how bad this was going to be. And then during 2009 we had this whole argument about what you do about the deficit."

After Mr Darling told a newspaper the financial crisis could be the worst for 60 years, he said he was subject to "deeply unpleasant" briefings against him - assumed to have come from No 10 aides.

"I really don't mind, and relish, attacking Tories and Tories attacking me," he said. "What is so debilitating is when your own lot are doing it to you. It left a mark on me you really can't erase."

"What I do mind is when you have got people briefing all over the place that you have made a fool of yourself, your days are numbered, your have got the judgement wrong, that kind of stuff.

'Chaotic air'

Labour could have presented its economic arguments more clearly during the 2010 election campaign, he said, but were stymied by the fact it was "blindingly obvious" that he and Mr Brown disagreed over how to deal with the deficit and how far to cut spending.

"My frustration is that we could have got through this, we could have charted a political way through this... We could have come through this but we didn't."

He said he stood by his plan at the time to cut borrowing in half over four years and suggested that Mr Brown was in denial about the need to rein in spending.

"At the end point you had to say you had to get your borrowing down and ignoring the problem, frankly, is as bad as the present government's policy."

In his memoirs, Mr Darling says the last 18 months of Mr Brown's government had a "permanent air of chaos and crisis" about them.

He said he always feared Mr Brown regarded him as a "stopgap" chancellor and describes how he resisted efforts to replace him with Ed Balls, a close ally of Mr Brown, in June 2009.

"Part of me wanted to go. I was tired of the atmosphere of feuding and the perpetual sniping. Our friendship had been strained beyond breaking point," he wrote.

"And yet another part of me did not want to be forced out at this stage."

Miliband meeting

Mr Darling also revealed that shortly afterwards he held a meeting with David Miliband, the former foreign secretary, to "discuss whether there was any way of getting rid of Gordon".

Mr Darling said they concluded such a move was not possible at the time.

"That afternoon we came to a pretty unsatisfactory conclusion: that Gordon wouldn't leave; that there was no alternative leader in prospect; and that there was an inevitability that we must just soldier on."

He acknowledged that he and other former ministers concerned about Mr Brown's behaviour should have challenged him at the time.

"Perhaps we should have done something," he told Andrew Marr.

"Why did I not do it? I am afraid for me - despite everything - I had a residual loyalty which I found it very difficult to overcome. We go back a long, long way."

'Lot of respect'

The former prime minister has not yet responded to Mr Darling's claims, but on Tuesday refused to comment on other claims attributed to the book that he had a "brutal and volcanic" mood.

But shadow education secretary Andrew Burnham - a member of Mr Brown's cabinet - said he thought "raking over these coals" was not helpful to Labour and "demoralising" for party members trying to focus on current challenges.

"I have got a lot of respect for Gordon Brown," he told Sky News.

"He dealt with some of the most difficult issues that this country has ever faced and faced them with great insight and leadership.

"Because of the action we took, we helped set a course for the rest of the world."

More on this story