Ex-UK finance minister Darling, who fought financial crisis, dies

By William Schomberg and Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) -Former British finance minister Alistair Darling, who steered the country’s economy and banking system through the shock of the global financial crisis in 2007-08, has died aged 70 after undergoing treatment for cancer, his family said on Thursday.

Darling was named chancellor of the exchequer by former prime minister Gordon Brown in June 2007, just as the crisis was brewing at leading financial institutions. The upheaval eventually sent Britain into what was then its deepest recession since World War Two.

The former lawyer oversaw the state rescue of British lender Northern Rock, tackling the first run on a retail bank in Britain since the 19th century, just a few months into the job.

In October 2008, he led a 37 billion-pound ($47 billion) government bailout of Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB and HBOS to help them survive the credit crunch, effectively nationalising some of Britain’s biggest banks in the process.

Darling was a member of parliament representing the centre-left Labour Party between 1987 and 2015 and he served as chief secretary to the Treasury and headed various ministries before being put in charge of the finance ministry by Brown.

“The much-loved husband of Margaret and beloved father of Calum and Anna, died after a short spell in Western General Hospital under the wonderful care of the cancer team,” his family said in a statement.

He was described by friends as a clever, calm and rational man who could be sarcastic and funny in private.

Born in 1953, Darling attended the private Loretto School on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland’s oldest boarding school, before studying law at Aberdeen University. He worked as a lawyer in Edinburgh before becoming a barrister in 1984.

Politicians from all the main political parties paid tribute to him, praising his intellect and kindness.

“I never met anyone who didn’t like him,” Brown’s predecessor as prime minister, Tony Blair, said. “He was highly capable, though modest, understated but never to be underestimated, always kind and dignified even under the intense pressure politics can generate.”


Darling hit the headlines in August 2008, before the scale of the financial crisis was clear, when he was quoted by The Guardian newspaper as saying that the economic challenges “are arguably the worst they’ve been in 60 years … and I think it’s going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought”.

The interview infuriated Brown who felt the comments had damaged the economy, but a month later Darling was proved right when the collapse of Lehman Brothers – the biggest bankruptcy in history – caused global credit markets to seize up.

Darling said the scariest moment of the crisis came during a phone call in October 2008 with the chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland, then one of the biggest lenders in the world, who said his bank was within hours of running out of money.

In response, Darling told his officials, lawyers and bank executives to work through the night to find a solution before the financial markets opened the next day and ordered curries from his local Indian restaurant to feed everyone.

The following morning, the British government announced plans to nationalise large sections of the banking sector.

Darling said in 2018 that if he had not ordered the bailout, Britain could have been within hours of the breakdown of law and order because cash machines would have stopped working.

In a sign of the broad respect commanded by Darling across the political spectrum, six years later he chaired the cross-party Better Together group, which led the successful campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom in the 2014 referendum.

“Darling’s passing is a huge loss to us all,” said Britain’s present prime minister Rishi Sunak, from the centre-right Conservative party. “He was a dedicated public servant who served this country though challenging times.”

($1 = 0.7932 pounds)

(Additional reporting by Muvija M; Editing by Kate Holton and Andrew Heavens)