Alistair Darling has told tomorrow’s FT that he won’t be seeking re-election and is off at the ‘relatively young’ age of 60 to try something new. He backs the also-departing Jim Murphy as leader of Scottish Labour but will do so as a member of the public. Darling’s decision doesn’t surprise me: there were rumours that he was thinking this way ahead of the last election.
He is perhaps the only finance minister in Europe serving at the time of the crash to have come out of it with his reputation enhanced (which is why he has other career options to think about). He was a unifying figure, and therefore Labour’s only hope to lead the Better Together campaign. But I suspect that experience exposed him to as much Labour infighting as a sane man would be willing to take in one lifetime. What’s more, the disaster of Miliband’s leadership means that Scottish Labour MPs like Darling could face a rout at the next election. Why stick around for that?
And, as he tells the FT, Miliband has snatched this defeat from the jaws of victory:-
‘”My frustration is that we actually won,” he said. “You can’t say it often enough. We made the arguments, we had confidence in ourselves.”‘
So Darling joins Alan Milburn, James Purnell, Jim Murphy and Alan Johnson as a competent Labour centrist who has concluded that life is too short to play a bit part in Ed Miliband’s sorry pantomime. It’s a shame: Miliband needs people like Darling around. But the feeling is certainly not mutual.