London: Keir Starmer, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair joined a host of senior figures from across British politics on Tuesday to pay tribute to Alistair Darling, the former chancellor who died last month aged 70.
A congregation that included Scotland’s first minister, Humza Yousaf, the former Conservative chancellor George Osborne and the former Cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell gathered for Darling’s memorial service at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh.
In a eulogy that followed tributes from close friends and his children, Anna and Calum, the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, described Darling as her mentor, a man of great integrity whose “decency, honesty and shrewd judgment represented the very best of our politics”.
She said Darling, who had built his career on being trusted and unflashy, almost relished being described twice as the most boring politician in Britain by Truckers’ Weekly, though that reputation crumbled in private under his dry, acerbic wit. “After the last few years, perhaps people might like their chancellors a little less exciting,” she said.
Darling was one of only three Labour MPs who served on the frontbench for the full 13 years of the last Labour government, while leading the government through a “generational global financial crisis” in 2008, which drew on his previous training as a lawyer.
He was “a model of calm careful deliberation and strong instincts”, Reeves said. “Those difficult months required courage, the willingness to listen to advice, the intellect to grasp it and the willingness to act with swift bold judgment when called upon and to take responsibility for those momentous decisions.”
He grasped the essential truth “that the most basic precondition [for earning the right to govern] is the public’s trust with taxpayers’ money”, she said.
Darling died of a short illness with an aggressive form of cancer in Edinburgh on 30 November, two days after his 70th birthday. His family held a small, private cremation on Monday, where the funeral service included an Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet and the Lou Reed song Perfect Day.
Among the mourners at St Mary’s were the former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson; the former Labour minister and European trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson; the Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, the authors JK Rowling and Ian Rankin; the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper; and Ed Balls, a potential chancellor at the time of Darling’s appointment to the post in 2007.
The service at St Mary’s also heard from Brian Wilson, the former Labour energy minister and one of Darling’s closest friends. Referring to Darling’s education at Lorretto, a private school in Musselburgh, Wilson said: “Possibly the only advantage to a private education was that it pushed his views well to the left.”
Rather than earn a very comfortable living as an advocate, Darling devoted himself to the Labour party. He swapped the pinstripes of the legal profession to don jeans and jumpers in the evening before embracing the task of making Labour electable again after its heavy defeat in the 1987 general election.