Back From The Brink – Alistair Darling Biography Review.
Voice’s David Innes’ benchmark indicator of biographical literature quality is more or less, “Would I have a pint with this guy?” It was with some interest and not a little thirst that he approached the latest revelations from inside government, written by the man who achieved heady high office as President of the University of Aberdeen’s Student Representative Council in the mid-1970s and then went on to reputedly greater things.
Tabloid is a newspaper shape, although the term is now universally used to describe populist low-rent journalism. Not here at Voice where your screen size delineates layout and low-rent isn’t our way.
Tabloids’ views on Back From The Brink have been almost prurient in their seizing on the Darling-Brown relationship as their focus for summarising the book’s content and offering review.
Whilst this is interesting, and is probably welcome relief from the views of Debbie from Doncaster, 22, 38-22-36, on monetary policy within the Eurozone and its effect on Greek public expenditure, far more interesting is Darling’s take on the events and decisions forced upon him during his tenure in No 11, as the economic crisis of 2007 threatened to destroy global financial systems.
The former Chancellor’s view is that the Financial Services Authority (FSA) failed due to its never having had to deal with a financial crisis, as the regulatory system had only ever had to operate in good times.
When the chill economic breeze blew over the North Atlantic and the unregulated mortgage free-for-all was found not only to have been the preserve of US financial institutions, the UK banking system clammed up, investors panicked and the reliance on UK financial service companies for 25% of UK tax revenue was shown up for the short-term folly that it was. Not before those responsible had lined their own pockets, of course.
As banks pleaded poverty and our mortgages and pensions were put at risk, these self-same bankers, previously vocal in their demands to be left alone, free from governmental intervention, queued up at the Treasury door, looking for a bail-out, courtesy of Mr and Mrs Joseph Soap of Gullible-At-Sea, also demanding that the “toxic assets” (those’ll be debts which will never be paid, then) be taken on by taxpayers whilst the banks continued to rake off the top line from profit-making accounts.
It is to his credit that the Chancellor extracted significant pounds of flesh from these banks in charges for the liquidity handout they received.
Here’s a very interesting fact to ponder next time you’re trying to have a cheque cleared through our banking system, where processes move at the pace of traffic in King Street on a rainy Thursday night, the week before Christmas – $6bn was reputedly taken from the UK Lehman Brothers’ UK operation on a Friday evening so that it could be in the US operation’s empty coffers on the Monday morning. As the author observes, this
“demonstrates…how quickly money can be moved from one jurisdiction to another”.
Of course, when it suits the usurers.
It is to Darling’s credit that much of the technical content is made easy to understand, even to economic illiterates like your reviewer. He is also very clear on timescales, forensically-sharp on the decision-making processes and pays suitable tribute to a Treasury team worked to exhaustion putting measures in place to prevent meltdown.
He stints neither from taking credit for saving the banking sector – and by definition everything else in the economy – from collapse, nor shies away from admitting where errors were made.
Among those errors was the Prime Minister’s approach to the 2010 General Election. His “Tory cuts v Labour investment” was a line easily seen through, a false promise which the electorate didn’t buy. Darling’s view, over-ruled, was that voters could be persuaded that whilst cuts were to be made, they would accept that they did not need to be made to the degree and on the timescale gleefully endorsed and seized upon zealously by public sector-despising Tories and their Lib Dem patsies.
As sometimes sweet relief from the incessant round of IMF, G7 and G20 meetings, Spending Review speeches, Budget statements and Treasury late-night sessions, Darling writes affectionately about his family, the social and charitable aspect of life in No 11 and of his bolt hole in the Hebrides. He comes across as mild-mannered, thoughtful, loyal and reliable. He describes himself as “managerial”. That’s a fair self-assessment.
Of course, this insider account is one-sided, although credible. It will be interesting as others’ takes on the financial crisis are published and comparisons can be made.
So, would I have a pint with the former Chancellor? Yes, without a doubt, if only to point out that “the late Tommy Docherty” referred to on page 119, is very much alive.
Your round Alistair, just don’t put it on expenses.
Back From The brink. 1000 Days at No. 11
ISBN 9 780 85789 279 9