Former chancellor and veteran Labour politician Alistair Darling dies aged 70

30 November 2023, 12:47 | Updated: 30 November 2023, 16:43

Alistair Darling has died aged 70
Alistair Darling has died aged 70. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Alistair Darling has died after a short illness aged 70, his family has confirmed.

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His death comes just two days after his 70th birthday. Lord Darling was a member of parliament from 1987 until he stepped down in 2015.

Following Labour's landslide 1997 election win, Lord Darling served in Cabinet for 13 years under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Lord Darling became a household name when Mr Brown appointed him chancellor after taking the keys to Number 10 back in 2007 which led to him steering the UK through the 2008 financial crisis.

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Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling. Picture: Alamy

He later led the victorious Better Together campaign in the 2014 independence referendum, defeating Alex Salmond’s nationalists.

Tributes came in after his death from Labour and Scottish politicians, who hailed his leadership and devotion.

Mr Brown, who worked with Lord Darling to help steer the UK through the 2008 crisis, said he "held him in the highest esteem" and that he had "relied on his wisdom, calmness in a crisis and his humour."

Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown
Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown. Picture: Getty

The former Edinburgh MP died after a "short spell" in hospital, his family said.

A statement issued on behalf of his family said: "The death of Alistair Darling, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and long-serving member of the Labour cabinet, was announced in Edinburgh today.

"Mr Darling, 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."

Alistair Darling was born in 1953 in London. He joined the Labour Party aged 23, becoming a lawyer, then a local councillor in Scotland.

Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling. Picture: Alamy

He entered Parliament in 1987, defeating the incumbent Conservative MP in Edinburgh Central. He announced his intention to leave the House of Commons in 2010, after Labour were defeated in the General Election.

He served in several Cabinet roles from 1997, starting as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, before moving to the Department of Work and Pensions, and then the Department for Transport. He later took on the Scotland brief in 2003, before moving to the department of Trade and Industry in 2006.

He became Chancellor in 2007, serving in the role until 2010. He was made Baron Darling of Roulanish in 2015.

Mr Brown hailed Lord Darling as a "statesman of unimpeachable integrity".

Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling. Picture: Alamy

He said that his former Chancellor's "life was defined by a strong sense of social justice and who gained a global reputation for the assured competence and the exercise of considered judgement he brought to the handling of economic affairs."

Mr Brown added: "He started off as a very successful councillor before becoming a highly effective Member of Parliament for Edinburgh Central, a constituency he loved. He became best known as a popular and effective government minister, first as Work and Pensions, Transport, and Industry Secretary and from 2007 to 2010 as Chancellor of the Exchequer where he guided the Treasury and the United Kingdom through traumatic financial events."

"As the Chair of the Better Together campaign for the 2014 Scottish referendum he was resolute and courageous in making the case for Scotland's place in the United Kingdom."

Alistair Darling, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in 2009
Alistair Darling, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in 2009. Picture: Alamy

"He was held in the highest esteem by me and all who worked with him for the way in which he handled the fall of the major banks and negotiated international agreements with fellow finance ministers. I, like many, relied on his wisdom, calmness in a crisis and his humour."

"Alistair’s family were central to everything he did. I send my deepest condolences to his loving wife Maggie and their children Calum and Anna. He will be missed by all who knew and respected him and benefited from the great work he did."

Former prime minister Sir Tony Blair said Lord Darling was the "safest of safe hands" as a minister.

"Alistair Darling was a rarity in politics," Sir Tony said. "I never met anyone who didn't like him. He was highly capable, though modest, understated but never to be underestimated, always kind and dignified even under the intense pressure politics can generate.

"He was the safest of safe hands. I knew he could be given any position in the Cabinet and be depended upon. I liked him and respected him immensely as a colleague and as a friend.

"In all the jobs he did for me in Government - chief secretary, work and pensions, transport, trade and industry and of course as secretary of state for Scotland, he was outstanding.

"He could take tough decisions on spending when he needed to, but as he did with Crossrail, when convinced of a project's importance, he would be equally tough in supporting it.

"I remember him with huge affection. He has been taken from us far too soon. My deepest condolences to Maggie, to Calum and Anna."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was "saddened" by the death of Lord Darling.

Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling. Picture: Getty

“My heart goes out to his family, particularly Maggie, Calum and Anna, whom he loved so dearly," he said.

“Alistair lived a life devoted to public service. He will be remembered as the Chancellor whose calm expertise and honesty helped to guide Britain through the tumult of the global financial crisis."

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow chancellor, said: “Alistair was one of our great public servants who has left an enduring legacy on our country. As Chancellor, he showed extraordinary leadership and helped steward our economy during the global financial crisis.

“I will miss his advice and his counsel. But, more than anything I will miss his friendship, his kindness and decency, his humour and his warmth.

Alistair Darling hugs his wife Maggie outside number 11
Alistair Darling hugs his wife Maggie outside number 11. Picture: Getty

“My thoughts are with Maggie and their family today as they grieve their loss."

Sadiq Khan said he was "very sad" to learn of Lord Darling's death.

"I spent a year around the Cabinet table being inspired by his calm leadership during the financial crisis," he said.

"His integrity, and his years of service to our country will never be forgotten."

Scottish National Party leader Humza Yousaf called Lord Darling a "giant" of Scottish politics.

"I am deeply saddened to hear of Alistair's passing. He dedicated his life to public service and was a giant of Scottish politics," he said.

"My thoughts are with his wife Margaret, children, family, friends and colleagues at this sad time."