What is Alistair Darling up to?

February 25, 2010

darling Normally regarded as a safe pair of hands, Chancellor Alistair Darling raised hell on Tuesday night by confirming on live television what everyone in Westminster has believed for some time.

That was that there were people who worked for the prime minister who briefed against him after he told a magazine interviewer in 2008 that the country was facing the worst economic conditions in 60 years.

“The forces of hell were unleashed,” Darling said on Tuesday, referring to the media operation against him from both Number 10 and the opposition Conservatives.

Brown was forced out early on to the airwaves Wednesday morning to say that he had never instructed anyone to brief against the Chancellor.

One explanation offered by Darling aides is that their boss was so used to explaining his version of events to journalists on background that he forgot he was on live TV.

The Conservatives say he is just so angry at the way he was treated that he cannot contain himself and feels he now has nothing to lose.

Brown loyalists just shrugged their shoulders when asked what they thought. Darling can be pretty blunt but surely he must have realised the storm his words would cause just when Labour was trying to put talks about splits and Brown’s personality behind it.

He certainly has been upping his media profile recently. Perhaps that is not surprising when an election is expected on May 6. But a planned interview with GQ magazine hardly seems like the Darling of old.

In fact, he’s come out of much media coverage really pretty well. His comments to the Guardian in 2008 that kickstarted the whole affair now seem pretty prescient.

Conversations reported between him and the prime minister in extracts from Andrew Rawnsley’s book certainly give him the upper hand.

For example, Darling was right about the financial crisis. Brown could not move him from the Treasury despite wanting to put his close ally Ed Balls in his place.

Darling aides say their man has no ambition to be leader of the Labour Party. But given he is one of the Cabinet’s most well-regarded faces, could he not emerge as a surprise candidate to prevent party bloodshed if Labour loses the election.

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Not the first time. Over a year ago he said correctly but surprisingly in a regional radio interview that of all the Labour Government’s mistakes one of the worst was not commissioning new builds of nuclear power stations. This time he is pitching for the job at the IMF after the election, and making sure Brown doesn’t get it.

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