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Alistair Darling and the IMG

September 5, 2011

Thanks to Keith Sinclair for this piece from the Sunday Times-

Oi, Neil, I’m the bearded TrotThe former Labour leader’s famous tirade against Alistair Darling was in fact a case of mistaken identity aimed at his doppelganger
He was caricatured as the “bearded Trot” whom Neil Kinnock was determined to stop becoming an MP. But the former Labour leader’s often repeated verdict on Alistair Darling after a meeting with “loony left” councillors was based on the wrong beard, according to the former chancellor, who claims tales of his past leanings are greatly exaggerated.

Kinnock’s jibe, which marked Darling out as a troublemaker, followed a trip to Edinburgh to reason with fellow Celts who were said to be giving the Labour party a bad name.

Darling claims it was, in fact, aimed at a doppelganger. His equally grey hair and dark beard earned John Mulvey the nickname “Guinness”, although some found his hardline views less palatable as he took one of Britain’s biggest councils to the edge of illegality.

Mulvey was leader of the Labour group on Lothian regional council (LRC) and Darling’s boss when the future minister was cutting his political teeth in the 1970s and 1980s. In Edinburgh last week Mulvey admitted that the MP could hardly be called “a Trot” but insisted his former colleague had supported some of his “hardish-left” tactics.

In an interview with The Sunday Times today, Darling responds to the “madcap leftie” tag that may have held back his parliamentary career under Kinnock.

After visiting Labour politicians in the Scottish capital in 1986, the then Labour leader is reputed to have singled out Darling by declaring: “I never want to see that bearded Trot becoming an MP.”

Asked if he was indeed a raging ultra-leftie, Darling told The Sunday Times: “Neil Kinnock mistook me for one … there’s a guy in Edinburgh who’s still around. He looks like me. He’s grey like me. He had a beard like me. And he was — and still is, I think — a bit of a Trot. Neil mistook us.”

Denying he had ever joined the International Marxist Group, the Trotskyist faction that was gaining momentum at the time, Darling added: “I’ve become less left-wing than I was, but I was never a Trot.”

Kinnock’s outburst followed a meeting with Mulvey and senior colleagues ahead of regional elections, a year before Darling became an Edinburgh MP. “It was the first time I had met Kinnock face to face,” recalls Mulvey. “I think it was all a PR exercise. Most of the hour was spent with people getting their picture taken with him so they could use it in their election address — the former chancellor included, I think.”

Kinnock had suspended the Liverpool district Labour party the year before to curb the Militant Tendency and was determined to stamp out any trace of Trotskyite influence elsewhere. Alongside Mulvey, Darling, a councillor in 1982-7, had been an architect of a stand-off with the Thatcher government when the LRC refused to implement a £60m cut to the council’s budget.

Bob Thomson, a former Scottish Labour chairman, also recalls Darling arguing for industrial action to resist Thatcherism. “He was a leftwinger in the mould of Ken Livingstone, advocating left-wing policies and confrontation with the government. He was certainly on the hard left and walked around in jeans with the backside out of them.”

If Kinnock’s comment was based on mistaken identity, Mulvey says his mischievous sense of humour may not have helped. “Alistair went to a private school in Musselburgh called Loretto and I went to the local state primary which was also called Loretto, and I always joked that we had both gone to the Loretto.”

He added: “He presented himself as fairly left of centre. But whatever else Alistair was, he wasn’t a Trot.”

Yet Edinburgh’s Trots may have had the last laugh. Trot or not, the now beardless MP will be remembered as the chancellor who nationalised the banks.

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