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Alistair_Darling

Alistair Darling

Alistair Maclean Darling (born 28 November 1953) is a British politician and Chancellor of the Exchequer since 28 June 2007. He is Labour Party Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South West in Scotland.

Early life

Darling was born in London, the son of a civil engineer, Thomas, and his wife, Anna. He is the great-nephew of Sir William Darling who was Conservative MP for Edinburgh South (1945–1957). He was educated in Kirkcaldy, and the private Loretto School, Musselburgh, East Lothian, then attended the University of Aberdeen where he was awarded a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B). He became the head of Aberdeen University Students Union. Before joining the Labour Party at the age of 23 in 1977, Darling was a supporter of the International Marxist Group, the British section of the Trotskyist Fourth International. He became a solicitor in 1978, then changed course for the Scots bar and was admitted as an advocate in 1984. He was elected as a councillor to the Lothian Regional Council in 1982 where he supported large rates rises in defiance of Margaret Thatcher's rate-capping laws and even threatened not to set a rate at all. He served on the council until he was elected to Parliament. He was also a board member for the Lothian and Borders Police and became a governor of Napier College in 1985 for two years.

Member of Parliament

He entered Parliament at the 1987 General Election in Edinburgh Central defeating the sitting Conservative MP Sir Alexander Fletcher by 2,262 votes, and has remained an MP since.

After the creation of the Scottish Parliament the number of Scottish seats at Westminster was reduced, his Edinburgh Central seat was abolished. Since the 2005 election he has represented Edinburgh South West. The Labour Party was so concerned that Darling might be defeated, several senior party figures, including Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Chancellor Gordon Brown, made supportive visits to the constituency during the election campaign. Despite being a senior Cabinet minister himself, Darling was hardly seen outside the area, as he was making the maximum effort to win his seat. In the event, he won it with a majority of 7,242 over the second-placed Conservative candidate, a 16.49% margin on a 65.4% turnout.

Shadow Cabinet

As a backbencher he sponsored the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1988. He soon became an Opposition Home Affairs spokesman in 1988 on the frontbench of Neil Kinnock.

After the 1992 General Election he became a spokesman on Treasury Affairs until being promoted to Tony Blair's Shadow Cabinet as the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1996.

In Government

Following the 1997 General Election he entered Cabinet as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury; he is one of only three people who have been in the Cabinet ever since (the others are Gordon Brown and Jack Straw).

In 1998 he was made the Secretary of State for Social Security replacing Harriet Harman who had been dismissed. After the 2001 General Election, the department for Social Security was abolished and replaced with the new Department for Work and Pensions, which also took employment away from the education portfolio, Darling headed the new department until 2002 when he was transferred to the Department for Transport, in the wake of his predecessor Stephen Byers resigning.

Transport Secretary

Darling was given a brief to "take the department out of the headlines" and was widely considered to have achieved this, although he was also criticised for achieving too little else whilst he held the transport brief. He oversaw the creation of Network Rail, the successor to Railtrack, which had collapsed in controversial circumstances for which his predecessor was largely blamed. He also procured the passage of the legislation - the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 - which abolished the Rail Regulator and replaced it with the Office of Rail Regulation. He was responsible for the Railways Act 2005 which abolished the Strategic Rail Authority, a creation of the Labour government under the Transport Act 2000. Darling was also responsible for the cancellation of several major Light Rail schemes.

Although he was not at the Department for Transport at the time of the collapse of Railtrack, Darling vigorously defended what had been done in a speech to the House of Commons on 24 October 2005. This included the making of threats to the independent Rail Regulator that if he intervened to defend the company against the government's attempts to force it into railway administration - a special status for insolvent railway companies - the government would introduce emergency legislation to take the regulator under direct political control. This stance by Darling surprised many observers because during his tenure at the Department for Transport he had made several statements to Parliament and the financial markets assuring them that the government regarded independence in economic regulation of the railways as essential.

After the Scottish Office was folded into the Department for Constitutional Affairs, he was made Scottish Secretary in combination with his transport portfolio in 2003. In the Cabinet reshuffle of May 2006, he was moved to the position of Secretary of State for Trade and Industry; Douglas Alexander replaced him as both Secretary of State for Transport and Secretary of State for Scotland. On 10 November 2006 in a mini-reshuffle, Malcolm Wicks, the Minister for Energy at the Department for Trade and Industry and therefore one of Darling's junior ministers, was appointed Minister for Science. Darling took over day-to-day control of the Energy portfolio.

Chancellor of the Exchequer

In June 2007, the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed Darling Chancellor of the Exchequer, a promotion widely anticipated in the media. Journalists observed that three of Darling's four junior ministers at the Treasury (Angela Eagle, Jane Kennedy and Kitty Ussher) are female and dubbed his team, "Darling's Darlings".

In September 2007, for the first time since 1860, there was a run on a British bank, Northern Rock. Although the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority have jurisdiction in such cases, ultimate authority for deciding on financial support for a bank in exceptional circumstances rests with the Chancellor. The 2007 subprime mortgage financial crisis had caused a liquidity crisis in the UK banking industry, and Northern Rock was unable to borrow as required by its business model. Darling authorised the Bank of England to lend Northern Rock funds to cover its liabilities and provided an unqualified taxpayers’ guarantee of the deposits of savers in Northern Rock in an attempt to stop the run. Northern Rock borrowed up to £20 billion from the Bank of England, and Darling was criticized for becoming sucked into a position where so much public money was tied up in a private company. On 12 March 2008, Darling gave his first Budget in the House of Commons.

In March 2008, Alistair Darling was criticised in some circles for the Budget by a media campaign spread by a social networking site. James Hughes, the landlord of Utopia Pub in Edinburgh, symbolically barred Darling from his pub, and a passing reporter from the Edinburgh Evening News ran the story. A Facebook group was created, leading dozens of pubs across the UK to follow Hughes, barring Darling from their pubs. The story was eventually picked up by most national press and broadcast media in the UK, and leader of the opposition cited the movement at Prime Minister's Questions on 26 March.

Child benefit data scandal

Darling was Chancellor when the personal and confidential details of over 25 million British citizens went missing while being sent from his department to the National Audit Office. A former Scotland Yard detective stated that with the current rate of £2.50 per person's details this data could have been sold for £60 million. The acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, put the value at £1.5bn, or £60 per identity.

10p Tax

Darling’s predecessor Gordon Brown before becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in his final budget on 21 March 2007 axed the 10% starting rate of taxation whilst reducing basic rate income tax from 22% to 20%. Although the majority of tax payers would be marginally better off by these changes some 5.1 million low earners including those earning less than £18,000 were worse off. On 18 October 2007 the Treasury released figures showing that childless people on low incomes could lose up to £200 a year as a result of the changes, while parents and those earning more than £20,000 will be better off.

Increasing political backlash to the additional tax burden put immense pressure onto the government including the new chancellor Darling with Gordon Brown facing criticism from his own Parliamentary Labour party. On 13 May 2008 Darling announced he would help low-paid workers hit by the scrapping of the 10p rate, by raising this year's personal tax allowance by £600 funded by borrowing £2.7 billion.

Storm warning

In an interview in The Guardian published 30 August 2008, Alistair Darling warned 'The economic times we are facing' "are arguably the worst they've been in 60 years. And I think it's going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought." His blunt warning led to confusion within the Labour Party. However, Darling insisted that it was his duty to be “straight” with people.

Personal life

Darling has been married to former journalist Margaret McQueen Vaughan since 1986, and they have one son (Calum, born 1988) and one daughter (Anna, born 1990). Margaret Vaughan worked for Radio Forth, the Daily Record and Glasgow Herald until Labour's election victory in 1997. In 2008 Darling was given an honorary position in the underground University College London student movement known only as Red Zone. Darling's media adviser, the former Herald political journalist, Catherine MacLeod, is a close friend of Vaughan and Darling, as well as being a long-standing Labour Party supporter. Darling had a previous marriage in the 1970s.Citation required

He enjoys listening to Pink Floyd, Coldplay and Leonard Cohen. He lives in the Morningside area of Edinburgh, in the same street as JK Rowling.

Bibliography

  • Torrance, David, The Scottish Secretaries (Birlinn 2006)

References

External links

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