Stephen Daisley Stephen Daisley

Alistair Darling only saved the country

(Twice)

Credit: Getty Images

Alistair Darling was one of the most consequential politicians of the past half-century but he had the misfortune to be a quiet, self-effacing man and so the scale of his contributions has never been recognised. He was not by nature a Westminster man, not someone who lived for briefings and gossip and the soap opera stuff. He courted journalists who had to be courted, met with City figures who had to be met, but it was never about the game for him, and not even the players, but about the results. 

There was an austerity about his demeanour – to certain London commentators he was just another dour Scot – but this solemnity was a reflection of the seriousness of the work. In private, he was warm, witty, convivial, and generous with both his time and his claret. He was a humble, dignified man and though he was treated shoddily by No. 10 in his time as chancellor he was saddened rather than bitter about it. 

He kept mementos of his time at the Treasury but he did not live on past glories. Five years ago, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Aberdeen University, I wrote a column in the Scottish Daily Mail calling for his contributions to public life to be accorded the esteem they deserved. I was reliably informed that he was mortified reading it. He had an ego, as we all do, but it was tempered as Scottish egos tend to be by the twin tyrannies of Calvinism and egalitarianism. It’s hard to get pauchtie in a country where people say ‘Ah kent yer faither’ not as a pleasantry but as a rebuke. 

There will be enough obituaries of the man in the coming days but I want to reflect on two examples of his public service and its magnitude.

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