The family croft, a peat fire and an explosive interview indeed.
With the repercussions of Mr Darling’s recent Guardian interview at his croft in Bernera on the west coast of Lewis, still being felt, the Stornoway Gazette got in a good interview themselves. What’s amusing is that more than a few journalists and blogs have been blaming the islands remoteness and beauty for Mr Darling’s candid comments, the journalist Decca Aitkenhead herself said…
If the chancellor was always intending to give an explosive interview, he didn’t give any indication of it. When my visit to his family croft in the Hebrides was arranged last month, it was on the understanding that it would be a broadly personal profile – a portrait of the man more than the politician.
I wasn’t expecting him to say anything that sent shockwaves through Westminster. But the question now is, was he? Were his startling comments a shrewdly calculated gamble – or a careless aside?
During the interview, I got the impression that he’d made a definite decision to be blunt about the gravity of Labour’s electoral problems. He was obviously frustrated with its failings, and keen to communicate a sense of urgency to the party about the need to turn things around.
But importantly – if ironically – he was urging discipline and unity. We’ll never get ourselves out of trouble, he repeatedly said, if colleagues keep going off “flying kites”.
The other message that seemed premeditated was his denial of an imminent reshuffle. I took it to mean that he knew there wouldn’t be one, and had been instructed to say so by Number 10.
But I do not think he planned to go so far, or make so many other unguarded remarks in such intemperate language. Darling’s remote croft feels a universe away from Westminster, and the interview took place on sofas in front of an open peat fire, with his wife cooking lunch next door.
They didn’t even record the interview on their own tape recorder. It feels pretty inconceivable that he would have said what he did from behind his desk in the Treasury – but after a day we’d spent out on his boat and on the beach, he seemed to simply drop his guard.
Unquestionably, the intention was to reveal more of himself. The arrangements for the interview were quite unlike any I’ve ever known; Darling’s wife was in charge of his diary during their summer holiday and was extraordinarily generous and relaxed, happy to let me intrude on their private holiday for as long as I needed.
She even suggested I stay with them – if I didn’t mind having to go through their bedroom to get to the loo. If they’d calculated that I’d see the chancellor in a likeably engaging, more charismatic light on Lewis, they were absolutely right.
But Darling is, as he said himself several times, not a performer. He seemed unfamiliar with the trick of appearing to open up without really saying anything. Having decided to be more forthcoming, I think he was unsure about how to judge where to draw the line. He basically just told the truth – and far away from Westminster, it didn’t seem that shocking.
…as if somehow the Peat Reek and sea air had addled his mind and lowered his guard.
Who knows, maybe it did?