Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Darling - the pirate of the Caribbean

For the Daily Record 25/03/10

No one ever had Alistair Darling down as an all-action hero but in one hour yesterday he went from being a silver-haired sea captain to a swashbuckling pirate of the Caribbean.

This was going to be a "steady as she goes" budget, as if being chancellor was like being a west coast ferry skipper.

But all the time, as he steamed through a budget for fairness, Darling put all the clear blue water he needed between Labour and the Tories.

He looked down at his charts and saw how the course he had set had taken Britain through the financial storm.

"Not everyone here supported the action taken. But with hindsight, it is even clearer that the right calls were made," said Darling. Across on the green benches opposite the Tories looked all at sea.

He gave some help to ordinary people, and made sure everyone knew the rich would be paying for it.

And he had some fun with the Tories too. He drew massive cheers from Labour MPs when he announced that he had signed tax information exchange agreements wih Belize – the home to Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative party’s "non dom" deputy chairman.

It was a political coup, a pirate raid that made Willam Hague’s bald head shine red like a lighthouse with embarrassment.

Hague it was, when he was Tory leader ten years ago, negotiated Ashcroft’s peerage on the promise that the billionaire funder of the party would pay taxes in Britain. We learned only a few weeks ago that Ashcroft reneged on that promise.

On the big question - the national deficit - Darling had some assurances for his other key constituency, the financial markets. He stuck to his promise that he deficit will be halved in four years.

It is below decks, in the big government spending departments, that the big savings will have to be made to pay off the debt.

Civil servants have to start bailing fast to keep the ship afloat. Some £11bn has to be cut next year, and another £30bn of cuts are to come after the election,whoever wins.

For two years, since the economic storm hit, Darling has been the steady hand at the tiller while economic storms and political battles have raged around him.

Other ministers have fallen, some have resigned, Gordon Brown has been pummelled, but Darling has sailed on into calmer waters, his reputation enhanced.

For an hour yesterday, while he hammered the Tories the Tories in his understated way, he was telling the voters he would take them safely to shore - it's steady as she goes with Cap’n Darling.

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