Alistair Darling

Alex Salmond’s impassioned plea for Scottish independence may have won over unsure voters, say our Scottish reader panel. As a snap poll by Guardian/ICM found Mr Salmond to have won Monday night’s television debate by a margin of 71 per cent to 29 per cent, even our panellists in the No camp had to admit that Scotland’s first minister had been the better speaker.

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He has been criticised in the past for offending women, gays and the Irish. Now Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, stands accused of insulting the people of Scotland and interfering in the country’s independence referendum on September 18, writes Jamie SmythRead more

Ed Miliband and Alistair DarlingI revealed in this morning’s FT that three former political heavyweights will take the lead roles in the fight against Scottish independence. Each is surprising in their own way:

For the Tories, David McLetchie. But what does choosing a former Scottish leader say about Ruth Davidson, the current one?

For the Lib Dems, Charles Kennedy. Having maintained a low profile since the beginning of the coalition (which he voted against joining), it will be a pleasant surprise to many to see the popular former leader return to frontline politics.

But it is the third one, Alistair Darling, who will be Labour’s leading figure in the campaign, that is most surprising. Whereas the other two do not have prominent Westminster roles, Darling only stopped being chancellor two years ago, and has even been talked of as a possible party leader to usurp Ed Miliband. Read more

Alistair DarlingOn the day after George Osborne admitted that he had recently lowered his short-term growth expectations, and with a row currently waging over the government’s wish to scrap the popular 50p top rate of income tax, Ed Miliband might have been expected to use the first PMQs after the summer to attack David Cameron on the economy.

But instead, we found ourselves in two rather old arguments, about police numbers and NHS waiting lists. While both are undoubtedly important subjects, somehow the debate felt a bit off-topic.

The reason for Miliband avoiding the big issue of the day became apparent later in the session, when the prime minister was asked by a Labour backbencher about the 50p rate and replied:

The person responsible for Labour’s economic policy at the last election said that they had no credibility whatsoever.

He was referring to Alistair Darling, Labour’s former chancellor, whose memoirs published this week describe a 2009 pre-Budget report whose creation was so chaotic and disunified that it resulted in a complete mess of an economic policy. Read more

Alan Johnson heavily criticised the New Year rise in VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent this morning, warning it would cost jobs and could jeopardise the economic recovery.

Is this responsible opposition? A Tory source points out that Labour would have almost certainly have done the same thing – or at least considered it very strongly. Read more

One of the more heartening exchanges in the Wikileaks files involves Alistair Darling, the then chancellor.

After a worthy discussion about bank bonuses and financial regulation, the US ambassador delicately turned to the most important issue of the day: tax breaks for US diplomats.

Ambassador raised the new embassy project at Nine Elms, noting that the $1.2 billion project would spur redevelopment of a blighted area and create jobs.

He said that as a matter of principle, the UK should not impose value-added tax on the construction of a chancery building.

Well, as you can imagine, this suggestion didn’t go down brilliantly with Darling.

Darling responded that the government could not exempt the project from VAT, citing the recession, tight budget and elections.

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The always self-depracating Alistair Darling* remembers today how he arrived in the Treasury without any inkling of the global crisis about to hit financial markets. I like the quote, not only because he is kind about the FT but also because it’s an insight into just how much of a shock the credit crunch was to many policy-makers.

When I was appointed Chancellor in the summer of 2007, I gave my first interview to the Financial Times – a paper for which I have the highest respect. Read more

I wrote earlier today that Labour’s leadership candidates should be working hard to secure the support of a small handful of figures, including Alistair Darling.

As one of the few former ministers to survive 13 years in power – with barely a scratch – the former chancellor’s backing carries weight. Tonight he nominates David Miliband; and tomorrow the pair will be out campaigning in London against the coalition’s cuts to university places and the Future Jobs Fund. In other words, it’s more than just a tacit endorsement.

Here is the relevant letter:

Andrew Burns
Labour Party offices
78 Buccleuch Street

Dear Andrew,

I am writing to let you know I will be nominating David Miliband as the next Leader of the Labour Party, and to explain my reasons for doing so. This is a crucial moment for our party so I wanted to write to you myself to set out my thinking. Read more

Apologies for the slight delay. It’s a long walk back from the steps of St Stephen’s entrance through the corridors of the Commons and back to my desk.

So, David Miliband will stand for the Labour leadership. It’s official.

Surrounded by a phalanx of 14 MPs*, including former ministers Gareth Thomas and Jim Fitzpatrick, whip Mark Tami and several newcomers – three women were noticeably at the forefront – he made his pitch**. The actual launch won’t come until next week, in his constituency of South Shields. Here’s the text of the speech.

Miliband said it was an exciting time in politics (er, obviously) and with the new coalition there was an opportunity for Labour to dominate the left and centre-left – ie at the expense of the Lib Dems. He promised the contest would be “warm, generous, comradely” (will Ed Balls make the same vow?) and soon disappeared back into the building. No mention of his brother.

The little group lost momentum as they walked back past Westminster Hall and stood, slightly depleted, in the central lobby. One of the followers, a new MP by my estimate, seemed a bit lost. “Come with me,” said Miliband. “You can come with me.” Read more

I wrote this morning that the Labour momentum was against a deal, with figures such as John Reid and David Blunkett saying it would be a mistake.

Paul Waugh is reporting that Andy Burnham has come out in public, saying: Read more

You read it on this blog first – here. (hat tip Jefferson) Read more

Now in the home run and I’m consolidating my prudent approach to gambling (Alex = hare, Jim = tortoise) with my last two bets – both of which I believe are safe.

I’ve placed £20 at Ladbrokes on the BNP not winning a single seat. No pollster or political expert has suggested in the last month that the BNP have sufficient momentum in any constituency and I have no reason to doubt this. You may consider the 1/4 odds paltry but in financial markets a 25 per cent return over 48 hours would be considered rather impressive. Read more

The next chancellor’s spending cuts will have an impact on growth. One of the worries in the Treasury is lower than expected growth will then up the ante on the cuts required to tackle the deficit. It is an horrible negative feedback loop.

If you want a sense of the scale of the challenge, take a look at Chris Giles fascinating piece on the impact of the deficit reduction plans using a replica of the Bank of England’s economic modelRead more

Tony Blair has returned from his Africa safari and will be making a speech in 10 minutes (sorry, some time soon) in a bid to turn Labour’s life-support machine back on.

Here are the two reasons why it probably won’t helpRead more

The problem with any plot involving Mandelson installing David Miliband into the Labour leadership is very familiar. It’s the sticking point which held back Brown’s enemies during the last three or four attempted coups against him.

It is this: the rules around Labour leadership elections are very complicated, especially if the incumbent refuses to step down. Even if Brown was to walk voluntarily there would still have to be a democratic election within Labour for his replacement.

You may remember that the Parliamentary Labour Party only has a third of the vote. Another third goes to the grassroots. The final third is the unions: and the barons are already unhappy at the idea of the Blairite wing of the party fixing the contest in advance. Read more

Try it if you dare. The FT deficit buster — an online simulator of the next three year spending round — allows you to choose your own package of cuts. It should definitely carry a health warning.

The project started as a simple question: can we show what it would take to halve the deficit by making £30-40bn cuts? The answer exposes just how little all three main parties are willing to tell you about the looming spending squeeze.

Take the easiest option in the game: acting as your own chancellor, free of party spending commitments. In today’s splash, we include an illustrative package of measures to make savings in the order of £40bn:

A 5 per cent cut in public sector pay; freezing benefits for a year; means-testing child benefit; abolishing winter fuel payments and free television licences; reducing prison numbers by a quarter; axing the two planned aircraft carriers; withdrawing free bus passes for pensioners; delaying Crossrail for three years; halving roads maintenance; stopping school building; halving the spend on teaching assistants and NHS dentistry; and cutting funding to Scotland and Wales by 10 per cent.

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Jim: 10.31pm: Okay, thanks very much for all the comments, feedback and emails. Looking forward to seeing you all again in a week’s time for the grand showdown. Thanks again.

Jim: 10.13pm: Don’t want to give you opinion poll fatigue but there’s one more worth showing you – here’s a link to it. Ipsos MORI (for Reuters) suggests that support for Lib Dems has doubled in marginal seats, from 11 per cent to 23 per cent. Interestingly, the party isn’t taking seats from either of the two main parties. Instead:

The Liberal Democrat gains have come almost completely from people who were not sure they would vote a fortnight ago and now say they are sure that they will.

Jim: 10.07pm: A thought about Gordon Brown. His team must be delighted (if ComRes is right) that he has held his own with Cameron. That was not predicted by anyone. But the three seem to be bunched closely together, still, which bodes ill for anyone who doesn’t want a hung Parliament.

Jim: 10.01pm: It gets worse for the Tories – although Ladbrokes is paying out on a Cameron debate victory, interestingly. hat-tip Sophy Ridge at News of the World:

While David Cameron claimed victory in the instant poll done by YouGov/The Sun, Nick Clegg has stolen the crown in a poll by ComRes/ITV. The Lib Dem leader clinched victory with 33 per cent of the vote, with Brown and Cameron neck and neck on 30 per cent. And a massive 36 per cent said they planned to vote Lib Dem after tonight’s debate – more than both the Tories and Labour.

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JP 11.27pm Time for my last attempt at sober analysis of the debate and the aftermath.

What matters ultimately is who came out on top between Cameron and Brown. After all, the Lib Dems have no chance in the majority of seats in the general election. They may still be glad to increase their number of seats from the current 63. Those are the basic facts.

If the preliminary reports are correct – that Cameron was significantly ahead of Brown – that may, ultimately, turn out to be crucial.

Regardless of Clegg’s moment in the sun (“Clegg the outsider seizes his moment in the TV spotlight” is the Guardian front page tomorrow. And “shock victory for Clegg” is the Daily Mail.) It’s still about blues versus reds. Read more

Curious to see David Miliband, former adviser to Tony Blair – and one of the key Blairites in cabinet – turning on Dubya. In a speech today, the foreign secretary compared David Cameron to George W. Bush in what can only be described as a negative way. Read more

What to make of Brown’s new mea culpa over bank regulation in the run-up to the crash?

The prime minister has told ITV (in a programme to be screened tonight at 7.30pm) that in the 1990s the banks begged to be free of regulation and Labour in effect accepted this.

It’s a striking confession. Until now Brown has usually sought to shift the blame on to failures of international – rather than national – regulation of financial markets. And of course he has insisted that the credit crunch was imported from the US.

Alistair Darling has also blamed the banks instead of the regulators as recently as last summer. Read more