Brown insisted he “never instructed” anyone to brief against his chancellor after Darling warned in 2008 that the world faced the worst recession for 60 years.
This raises an obvious question: did he do anything to stop the anti-Darling briefings? It is worth looking over the reports at that time as a reminder of how pointed the attacks were.
The implication wasn’t just that Brown was unhappy — it was that Brown was preparing to sack his Darling and replace him with Ed Balls. This surely should have prompted Brown to take action and make clear these briefings were false? No?
Anyway, the key piece seems to have been in the Mail on Sunday the day after the interview. “A furious Mr Brown phoned Mr Darling and ordered him to eat his words on TV, while allies of the Prime Minister said, Mr Darling should be sacked and his job given to Schools Secretary Ed Balls,” the piece stated. Here are the most forthright supporting quotes, which are notably from MPs, not aides:
One MP who is close to the Prime Minister said: ‘Alistair has got to go and his job must be given to Ed Balls. Ed is the cleverest person in the Cabinet and has the full confidence of the Prime Minister.
‘If anyone can get us out of this hole, Ed can. Alistair Darling’s comments are self-indulgent rubbish.’
A veteran Labour backbencher said: ‘This is obviously a farewell interview by Alistair. Everybody wants him to go. You may get away with one uncharismatic Scot at the top of the Government, but not two. It’s like a “who smiles first” contest.’
Some MPs went on the record too.
Durham MP Kevan Jones said: ‘The Chancellor and the rest of the Cabinet should start talking the Government up, not down. The economic picture is a mixed picture, it is not all black.’
Lindsay Hoyle, MP for Chorley, challenged Mr Darling’s claim that there should not be a reshuffle: ‘Most MPs think there should be a reshuffle. We need one badly to refresh the Government.’
Rachel Sylvester seems to have chatting to a few of the alleged dogs of Hades:
Already No 10 is trying to pin the blame on the Treasury: “They have not been proactive and dynamic and creative in their thinking” one aide said…..
Although the official line from both No 10 and the Treasury is that relations between Mr Brown and Mr Darling are good, privately insiders say they are dire.
“It’s desperate,” one Downing Street source says. “There has been a breakdown in the relationship between the Treasury and everyone else. I seriously doubt whether Alistair will be able to continue as Chancellor. What he did was absolutely appalling.”
One cabinet minister also felt strongly about it and told Philip Webster of the Times.
Mr Brown and ministers would have preferred Mr Darling to “unsay” his words: they insist that conditions are in no way as bad as those of the 1970s, late 1980s and early 1990s. According to one Cabinet minister, Mr Darling had “handed it to the Tories on a plate”.
There’s also an interesting nugget from the Sunday Times piece that weekend. While noting the anger of Labour MPs, the piece reports how Yvette Cooper made clear to Labour aides that she was much more optimistic about the economy. This, remember, was weeks before the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Last night some Labour MPs were openly questioning the chancellor’s judgement, while others labelled his comments “astonishing” and accused him of jeopardising attempts to turn around Labour’s disastrous poll ratings.
It emerged that last week Yvette Cooper, Darling’s deputy, had circulated a memo on the economy to Labour spin doctors striking a markedly different tone from her boss.
The document urged special advisers to acknowledge that conditions are “tough” but to emphasise that the picture is not as bleak as the recessions of the 1970s, early 1980s and 1990s, each of which saw a doubling of unemployment and prolonged economic misery.
Cooper’s briefing note chimes with the language used by other members of the cabinet recently when asked about the economy – suggesting that Darling’s grim prognosis is at odds with the message that his colleagues want to give.