Alistair Darling knows that Gordon Brown is now too weak now to slap him down and his interview
with The Times is notable for his candour. Fresh from having undermined Brown and Balls’s attempt
to use VAT as an election dividing line, Darlings tells Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson that the spending review will be the toughest for 20 years and that there will have to be £57 billion worth of spending cuts and tax rises. As Darling puts it, “Many departments will have less money in the next few years,” he said. “[The cuts] are utterly totally non-negotiable.’ It is a far cry from the investment versus cuts line so beloved of Brown and Balls and reopens the whole debate about Labour's election strategy.
The interview also contains some classic examples of Darling’s dry wit. Take this exchange:
“Mr Darling said. “Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, said you need a credible deficit reduction plan and I agree wholeheartedly with that.” Does Gordon? “He does.” And Mr Balls? “To coin a phrase, we are all in this together,” the Chancellor replied.”
Darling refused to say whether he had put any conditions on his continuing support of the Prime Minister. But it is clear that he knows that Brown is no longer in a position to stop him from being more truthful with the voters about the state of the public finances.