Alistair Darling Refuses To Rule Out Return As Chancellor, Urges Strong Pro-EU Argument

Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (left) applauds shadow Chancellor Alistair Darling after he addressed the Labour Party's annual conference in Manchester today.
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (left) applauds shadow Chancellor Alistair Darling after he addressed the Labour Party's annual conference in Manchester today.

Alistair Darling has urged pro-European politicians to make a stronger case for remaining inside the EU, as he refused to rule out making a return to the Labour front bench.

Speaking to journalists in Westminster on Tuesday afternoon, the former chancellor said while the British would "never love Europe" they were "pragmatic about where our interests lie" and eurosceptics could not be allowed to "make the running" on the issue.

"If you think European Union is beneficial to this country you do need to go out and make that argument," he said.

"Just as I believe Scotland is stronger and better as a part of the UK, the UK is better as an active member of the EU."

Ed Miliband under pressure from some Labour MPs to capitalise on David Cameron's internal Tory party woes by matching the prime minister's pledge to hold an in/out referendum.

However Darling, who is fronting the 'Better Together' anti-Scottish independence campaign said there was no pressing need for an immediate public ballot on the EU. "I'm not actually rushing to get any more referendums," he joked.

And he warned Cameron not to "abandon the middle ground" of British politics in the interests of chasing voters lost to Ukip at the local elections. "I don't think people voted Ukip because they studied their policies on anything," he said.

Darling, who supported David Miliband in the 2010 Labour leadership campaign, said Ed Miliband was "doing better than people give him credit for".

"It is not necessary for us to be setting out at this stage a detailed, line by line, manifesto or anything like that. We won't know the baseline of the government's spending limits until the June spending review," he said.

"But we will during the course of this year have to set out the political parameters. If you think back to what we were doing in 1995, 1996, 1997 when Tony Blair was elected, gradually what we did was establish in the public's mind what our priorities were ... so people could see a direction of travel."

Enemies of Ed Balls also often tout Darling as the ideal replacement for the current shadow chancellor should Labour fail to show it is winning the argument on the economy.

Darling said when Balls was appointed shadow chancellor it was routine to read that everything he said was "all rubbish" however he said there was now a "growing body of opinion" that Balls anti-austerity argument was correct.

Asked if he fancied another crack at being chancellor in the future, Darling said nothing else would command his attention until the 2014 Scottish independence referendum was over. But added: "After that I will maintain an interest in wider affairs, as I always do".

"At the moment I am totally focused on the [Scottish] referendum in October 2014, after that I will see where I stand," he said.

Darling said that after stepping down from the front bench after the 2010 general election having served in government continuously since 1997 his "original game plan was to stay on the backbenches" and learn what backbenchers did. He added: "I never did find out."

The former chancellor famously fell out with Gordon Brown in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis - claiming Downing Street unleashed the "the forces of hell" on him after he predicted the economic downturn could be the worst in 60 years.

Asked when the last time he spoke to the former prime minister, Darling diplomatically replied: "I have never provided a running commentary on any conversations I may or may not have had."