19 December 2023

Alistair Darling hailed as ‘man of great integrity’ at memorial service

19 December 2023

Politicians from across the spectrum came together to remember the life of former chancellor Alistair Darling, at a service which contained both personal and political tributes.

Former Labour prime ministers Sir Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both attended the packed memorial service in Edinburgh, along with ex-Conservative chancellor George Osborne and Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf.

Mourners at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral also included Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, and some of those who served in government with Mr Darling, including Lord Mandelson and Lord Robertson.

Former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, who campaigned for Scotland to stay in the UK in the 2014 independence referendum as part of the Better Together campaign led by Mr Darling, journalist Andrew Marr, writer Ian Rankin and Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who donated money to Better Together, were also present.

The service took place after a private cremation on Monday following Mr Darling’s death aged 70 on November 30 from cancer.

He was a Labour MP in Edinburgh between 1987 and 2015, and was one of only three politicians to serve continuously in government between 1997 and 2010 – serving under both Sir Tony and Mr Brown.

As chancellor under Mr Brown, Mr Darling was at the centre of the government’s response to the 2008 financial crisis, and was widely credited for his “calmness in a crisis”.

His son Calum recalled at the service how at “the very peak of the financial crisis, he broke out of Downing Street” to take him to a Leonard Cohen concert

“It was a welcome break at a difficult time and it was time well spent,” he added.

He also recalled how his mother Maggie hired a “small tractor” for his father for his 60th birthday, so he could spend the day on a friend’s farm “digging small holes and then filling them in again”.

Speaking about his father, he said: “We did know him best, and what we know is that however interested he was in politics and economics, what he really loved, apart from his family and the countryside, was tractors.”

Mr Darling’s daughter Anna said she was “one of only three people to whom he showed physical affection”.

She told the congregation: “We held hands, he would squeeze me tightly and kiss me on the head.

“Rest assured we held his hand till the very end.”

While she said the family feel “overwhelming grief” after his death, she added they will “remember that to feel such unimaginable grief, love had to come first”.

She continued: “My dad had many important jobs. But the two he took most seriously were being husband to our mum and being our dad.

“We will love and miss him forever.”

Friend and former Labour minister Brian Wilson described Mr Darling as a “straightforward good guy who cared enough to make a difference”.

He said that during the financial crisis, the then chancellor had made “clear, calm decisions”, and having “saved the British economy from the recklessness of the banks”, Mr Darling was later “pressed into service one more time to prevent the break up of the United Kingdom” by heading the Better Together campaign.

Mr Wilson added: “Suffice to say, nobody could have done it more effectively, or in the end more successfully.”

Ms Reeves described Mr Darling as her “good friend” and “wise mentor”.

Adding he was a “man of great integrity”, she said it was a “privilege” to speak at Tuesday’s memorial service.

She told mourners: “Alistair, through his decency and his honesty and shrewd judgment, represented the very best of our politics.”

She said he had acted “quickly and boldly” in the financial crisis, in ways which were “unimaginable beforehand” by recapitalising and nationalising banks and introducing quantitative easing.

“It was in that situation that the values that defined Alistair as a man and as a leader came to the fore,” Ms Reeves added.

“A model of calm, careful deliberation and strong instincts, when all around him was so uncertain.

“We can all be grateful we had someone with his extraordinary qualities in the Treasury when that particular crisis struck.

“And grateful too that when called upon, Alistair returned to the political front line in 2014, forcefully, painstakingly making the economic case for the future of the United Kingdom and preserving the union.

“If Labour has the privilege to form the next government, if I have the privilege of being the next chancellor of the Exchequer, I hope I will not face the challenges that Alistair did.

“But if I do, I hope I would respond with the clarity, the courage and the calm that he did.”

Reverend Canon Marion Chatterley told the congregation Mr Darling “will be deeply missed, but he will never be forgotten”.

She described the former chancellor as a “man who loved his family first and foremost, loved his country, and dedicated his life to public service”.

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