On-form Darling accuses Lib Dems of acting as Tories’ “human shield”

Former Chancellor fast emerging as key opposition figure.

Alistair Darling, not a man given to hyperbole, is on top form defending his economic legacy and attacking what he sees as ideological cuts from the Tory-led coalition. He has been a regular on the airwaves at a time when Labour lacks leadership. And this passionate piece in the Observer was a model Keynesian take-down of the government's fiscal plans.

Now, following Ed Miliband's description of Nick Clegg as a "crypto-Tory", Darling has accused the Lib Dems of acting as a "human shield" covering the Tories' controversial programme of cuts.

Darling writes in today's London Evening Standard:

When George Osborne says the UK is "on the road to ruin" he is trashing this country's reputation to justify the cuts and tax rises he's always wanted.

He talks a lot about tax rises and cuts. He never has much to say about growth. So the test of the Budget will be whether his plans ensure growth. And crucially, if it is fair.

Britain is slowly emerging from recession. Europe, our biggest trading partner, is struggling to maintain growth with many countries in recession or not far off it. Our economy is this year largely being supported by government spending, as the independent Office for Budget Responsibility has said. We cannot afford to do anything to undermine that growth. Indeed, we should be supporting it.

Borrowing has risen because tax revenues fell when the financial crisis hit in 2008. We and every other developed country did the same: we used public spending to stop our economy tipping from recession into depression. It worked.

Remember, the Tories supported our spending plans right up to 2008.

Of course, borrowing has to come down as our economy recovers. That is why I wanted to cut it by half over a four-year period. It would have been tough but I wanted to avoid damaging our economy whilst it was still in a fragile state.

The Tories have painted an apocalyptic picture of public finances and claim high borrowing is to be found here and nowhere else. That, as they know, is nonsense. They are using this as an excuse to do what they have always wanted to do -- have a real go at the public sector.

It is essential that we maintain growth. Without it, the deficit will never come down, as we have seen in Japan.

The Tories often quote Canada. The truth is the Canadians got their borrowing down on the back of a growing US economy. And it is nonsense, too, to suggest that if you cut public spending the private sector will take its place automatically.

And remember the Lib Dems' "VAT bombshell"? Judging by the last few weeks, they will be voting for a Tory Budget and acting as their human shield.

Darling is setting the tone for the new opposition. As Alastair Campbell has said, it is time for the Labour leadership candidates to follow suit.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war