Alistair Darling: TV debate performance may have cemented

Former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling dies aged 70

Former chancellor and veteran Labour politician Alistair Darling has died at the age of 70.

Darling served under the then-prime minister Gordon Brown from 2007 to 2010 and as a member of parliament from 1987 until he stepped down in 2015.

A statement issued on behalf of his family said: “The death of Alistair Darling, a former chancellor of the exchequer and long-serving member of the Labour cabinet, was announced in Edinburgh today.

“Mr Darling, the much-loved husband of Margaret and beloved father of Calum and Anna, died after a short spell in Western General hospital under the wonderful care of the cancer team.”

Darling became a member of the House of Lords in 2015 as Baron Darling of Roulanish.  However, he retired from the House of Lords in the summer of 2020, citing distance from his home in Edinburgh.

In 2015, Darling joined the Board of the bank Morgan Stanley.

Born on November 28, 1953, in London, Alistair Darling was the son of a Conservative voting engineer and the great-nephew of a Conservative MP.

Despite this background, Darling went on to become a Labour MP in Edinburgh from 1987 to 2015.

His most prominent role in government was as Gordon Brown’s Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2007 to 2010.

Following a string of big personality chancellors, upon Darling’s appointment, it was expected that this trend might be broken. According to commentators at the time, it was suggested that Darling would be something of a “yes man” to the prime minister, himself a former chancellor.

However, during his three-year tenure as Chancellor, Darling never fell in line with these predictions.

In 2007, for the first time since 1860, Britain experienced a run on a bank: Northern Rock. Ultimate responsibility for sorting this crisis fell onto the shoulders of Darling. 

In 2008, Darling warned of the worst financial crisis in 60 years, and he was right. Only a short time later, Lehman Brothers collapsed.

Darling described the “scariest moment” of the resultant financial crash as the hours before he was forced to bail out the Royal Bank of Scotland. 

In 2018, Darling suggested that if not for the bailout, Britain might have come within hours of “the breakdown of law and order“.

During the economic crisis, Darling was viewed as a reassuring figure.  

But amid the turmoil, however, Darling’s relationship with his boss, Gordon Brown, deteriorated.

A crunch moment came in 2009, when Brown reportedly wanted to swap Darling out for ally Ed Balls.

However, after Darling used his support within the party to pressure Brown, any such plan was shelved.

From 2012-2014, Darling served as the Chairman of the “Better Together” campaign, the organisation set up to campaign to keep Scotland in the Union.

As a prominent figure in the independence debate, Darling compared Scottish independence to buying “a one way to ticket to send our children to a deeply uncertain destination”.

Darling argued Scotland could have the “best of both worlds“, with a strong parliament at Holyrood and a secure place in the United Kingdom.

During the lead-up to the independence referendum, Darling took part in two televised debates against then-first minister Alex Salmond.

At the time Salmond was said to have performed better in these debates than Darling, but the former chancellor had the last laugh when 55 per cent of the Scottish electorate choose to remain part of the UK.

In the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, Darling returned to the fray writing to Conservative voters urging them to vote tactically and support Labour’s Anas Sarwar on the regional list ballot.

Prior to the 1997 election, Darling was first a member of the Opposition Home Affairs Team (1988-1992), then Opposition Spokesman on the City and Financial Services (1992-1996) and, finally, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1996-1997).

Following New Labour’s landslide win at the 1997 election, Darling was appointed to the cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury—he held this post until 1998.

Darling is one of only three people to have served in the ‘New Labour cabinet’ continuously from the 1997 election to the party’s defeat in 2010, the other two being Gordon Brown and Jack Straw.

Before being appointed Chancellor in 2007, Darling held the positions of Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1997-1998), Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions (1998-2002), Secretary of State for Transport (2002-2006), Secretary of State for Scotland (2003-2006) and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (2006-2007).

Prior to entering politics, Darling studied law at Aberdeen University.  He worked as a solicitor in Edinburgh before being called to the Scottish Bar.

Alistair Darling Tributes:

Former prime minister Gordon Brown said:

“Alistair will be remembered as a statesman of unimpeachable integrity whose life was defined by a strong sense of social justice and who gained a global reputation for the assured competence and the exercise of considered judgement he brought to the handling of economic affairs.

“He was held in the highest esteem by me and all who worked with him for the way in which he handled the fall of the major banks and negotiated international agreements with fellow finance ministers. I, like many, relied on his wisdom, calmness in a crisis and his humour.”

“Alistair’s family were central to everything he did. I send my deepest condolences to his loving wife Maggie and their children Calum and Anna. He will be missed by all who knew and respected him and benefited from the great work he did.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Alistair Darling. My heart goes out to his family, particularly Maggie, Calum and Anna, whom he loved so dearly.

Alistair lived a life devoted to public service. He will be remembered as the chancellor whose calm expertise and honesty helped to guide Britain through the tumult of the global financial crisis.

He was a lifelong advocate for Scotland and the Scottish people and his greatest professional pride came from representing his constituents in Edinburgh.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have benefited from Alistair’s counsel and friendship. He was always at hand to provide advice built on his decades of experience – always with his trademark wry, good humour.

Alistair will be missed by all those whose lives he touched. His loss to the Labour party, his friends and his family is immeasurable.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said:

I am heartbroken at the news of the death of Alistair Darling and my thoughts are with his wife – Maggie, his two children and all those who knew and loved him.

Alistair was a giant of the Labour movement, a titanic force for good and a man I was proud to consider a friend and a mentor.

From his time as Secretary of State for Scotland to being the Chancellor that led the UK through the financial crisis, Alistair Darling was dedicated to public service and improving the lives of those less fortunate.

At a time of division for Scotland, Alistair led the Better Together campaign with kindness, intelligence and good humour – it was a job he did not want to do, but he believed he was doing a service for Scotland.

Alistair’s life was one spent in the service of the people of Scotland and the UK – the Labour family and our country will sorely mourn his passing.

Jeremy Hunt wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “A sad day – I want to pay particular tribute to one of my predecessors, Alistair Darling. One of the great Chancellors, he’ll be remembered for doing the right thing for the country at a time of extraordinary turmoil. My deepest sympathies to his family”.

Labour MP for Edinburgh South and shadow secretary of state for Scotland, Ian Murray, said: “I have known Alistair for many years, and he was the most decent, hard working and principled man you could ever meet.

He served our home city of Edinburgh as a councillor and MP diligently over decades, and served our country as Chancellor during the most urgent economic crisis in our lifetimes.

He led the Treasury with the same principle and hard work that he applied to everything in his remarkable life.

Most of all Alistair was my friend and a lovely person to be around.

Alistair will be missed enormously and my thoughts just now are with his wife Maggie and his entire family.

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale reacted:

“I am so desperately sad to read that Alistair Darling has passed away.

“What a giant of a man. Compelling intellect, wicked sense of humour, phenomenal public servant and the most loving father and husband. Such a great, great loss.”

Alex Salmond, who was first minister of Scotland while Alistair Darling was chancellor, said:

“This is very sad news. Alistair Darling was a hugely significant figure in UK politics. I always found him an effective politician. He became Chancellor at an extremely difficult period but he presented as a calm and authoritative figure during the financial crisis.

During the referendum campaign he was a formidable opponent on behalf of the Better Together Campaign. However, outwith the political debates I can say we did not ever exchange a cross word. Alistair was an extremely courteous man.

Condolences go out to his family.”

Former prime minister Theresa May wrote on X:

Sad to learn of the death of Alistair Darling, whom I will remember as a committed public servant, a proud Unionist and a calm, kind and decent man.

He was an asset to our politics and our national life. My thoughts and prayers are with his family is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.