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17 May 2010updated 05 Oct 2023 8:23am

As predicted here, Alistair Darling quits front-line politics

A decent man and a fine politician -- but one with a hinterland.

By James Macintyre

I for one was not surprised to learn today that Alistair Darling, the former chancellor, is leaving front-line politics and opting out of the Labour front bench before it is elected by MPs.

When I wrote about Darling back in March, I spoke to people close to him and concluded thus:

Darling is a family man who enjoys nothing more than spending time on his croft on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. A further clue to his mindset comes from the New Statesman archives. In 2000, he told this magazine: “I’m not interested in being here for the sake of it. You can justify it only if you’re doing something worthwhile.” Asked on the BBC on 21 March if he expected to stay on as chancellor after the election, Darling would only say: “Let’s first win the election. I’m focusing on the Budget and winning the election.”

So what would Darling do in opposition should Labour lose? Some friends have urged him to stand in a likely leadership contest. But he is dismissive of this in private and, despite the fierce respect that the majority of Labour MPs have for Darling, it is hard to identify a solid constituency of “Darlingites” that compares with support for, say, the Miliband brothers and, to a lesser extent, Balls. Instead, one friend says that were he to be moved from the job he loves, or were Labour to enter opposition, Darling may surprise us all and just “walk away”. The source adds: “This would not be done in a huff or a sulk, but with dignity.”

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Dignity is the word I hear most often used about Darling. In the face of the worst international financial crisis in decades, plus internal briefings by what he himself called “the forces of hell”, Darling emerged a cool-headed and very wise chancellor, to whom much of the credit for the most important decisions that allowed Britain to avoid recession should go.

Front-line politics will be poorer without him.

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