Last Thursday evening I saw the ex-chancellor, Alistair Darling, speaking about his new book: Back From The Brink, at The Old Market in Hove. These talks are organised by City Books, a small but very active, book shop on Western Road.
The room was pretty packed with a few hundred people who had all paid a fiver to see Mr. Darling. He gave a short speech where he summarised his view of the collapse of Western Banks and how he considered that New Labour had rescued the situation. He claimed that at one point “The system had reached a stage where we were within hours of total collapse” and later said that he had “written a cheque for, effectively, 500 billion pounds”.
Not much was said about the cause of the crisis and he took the opportunity to point out some of the more favourable aspects of Tony Blair’s leadership such as reducing child poverty.
He spoke calmly and reasonably and with a trace of wry wit. He seemed to me a sincere politician. As with Jack Straw, people may claim that. though he seems sincere and reasonable in fact, behind the scenes, he is conniving to do so. Like a swan, on the surface complete calm and poise, while beneath the surface there’s frenetic activty. However, after years of the obviously insincere and calculating politicians such as Peter Mandelson, it strikes me that this is a little like the Chinese Room argument in philosophy. Or if you prefer another ornithological analogy: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it’s a duck. Mr. Darling spoke reasonably and apparently sincerely so perhaps he is a sincere and reasonable man.
In fact I was quite surprised at my reaction. As a serial political ranter, who is quite capable of condemning Tony Blair as the devil incarnate, I found myself thinking more sympathetically about politicians in general and, though Mr. Darling’s manner may have helped this, I think the act of occupying the same room helped establish a more empathic rapport as it allowed the audience to see the man as well as the politician.
After the speech Mr. Darling took questions which were mainly about the financial crisis. He made the point that Germany has benefited from the Euro by having a comparitevly weak currency helping German exports to China and he pointed out that these exports will decline if Germany leaves the Euro. He said “If you want the Euro, you have to accept the consequences of the Euro”. This is a very interesting argument and it made me consider the United States. Though California has screwed its economy there is no talk of California leaving the dollar.