Thursday, September 20, 2007

Does The Chancellor, Mr Darling, Have A Darling In Every Port, Or Is He Just Unlucky Enough To Look Like A Banker?

It is often said that British people like to queue. This, I feel, is something of an exaggeration. The British like to feel as if they are part of the crowd, and filled with purpose. They will line-up to break crockery at the Harrods sale, or to place Esso flowers at the roadside of a fallen royal. They will even tolerate the lines at Post Offices, where they will be roped-in like calves awaiting slaughter, and serenaded by televisions offering cheap insurance. But they will do these things without excitement or pleasure.
There was, nevertheless, something terribly reassuring about the queues outside Northern Rock banks, as sensible people in waterproof jerkins stood in line for the right to withdraw their funds from a financial institution which had the misfortune to be caught behaving in the manner of a pier-end supercasino.
This morning, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, an American commentator noted that it was fortunate that this crisis occurred in Britain; in another country, those lines of angry savers might have been less orderly. But the savers, by and large, weren't angry; they seemed to be in a very British state: happy to be disappointed.
Still, it has been a peculiar affair, and an interesting test for the new Chancellor, Mr Alistair Darling, a lawyer who resembles a banker, and who is temperamentally incapable of excitement.
For a long time, the most interesting thing about Mr Darling - a story confirmed by Labour activists from his Edinburgh constituency - was the fact that he had bluebirds tattooed on his hands, in the crook between the thumb and forefinger. These tattoos were small and faded, and easy to miss, but they did suggest that Mr Darling had an interesting past. I imagined him Shanghaied in Shanghai, or drinking coconut liqueurs in British Guyana. Perhaps his wardrobe was full of two dollar suits from Hong Kong. Was there a darling in every port for Mr Darling?
Perhaps. But, try as I might, I have been unable to confirm the existence of the tattoos, or of anything interesting in the early life of the Chancellor. I am told that he smiled once, around 1984, and there are dark rumours that on one occasion he ate a Kit-Kat between meals.
I can offer no proof of these events. But in this crisis, his dullness seems to have done the trick. The blame for the crisis has migrated to the Bank of England, and Mr Darling remains in Number 11, with his wife, his cat, and a pair of eyebrows he won in a poker game in Singapore.

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