ALISTAIR DARLING was left clinging to his job last night after Prime Minister Gordon Brown pointedly refused to give his chancellor his full backing after he was involved in another expenses row.
Darling was forced to apologise “unreservedly” over a £1,004 expenses claim he made on a south London flat which he moved out of shortly after he became chancellor and moved to Downing Street. There was a period where he was claiming for the flat while living at No 11.
Darling, on a charm offensive before the TV cameras last night, said he was “very sorry” and said he would pay back £350.
The chancellor is now tipped to lose his job after Thursday’s local and European elections where Labour is facing a rout. Brown is expected to reshuffle his team in a bid to freshen his cabinet in advance of next year’s elections. The Prime Minister could make his move as early as Friday.
Asked whether he would reshuffle Darling yesterday, Brown stonewalled. He said: “Alistair Darling has been a very good Chancellor. I am not going to make any predictions about anything that is going to happen in the next week.”
Some advisers have been urging Brown to put children’s minister and close ally Ed Balls into the Treasury. Such a move would also give Brown more freedom in planning the pre-Budget report as well as next year’s pre-election Budget. Darling was widely thought to have opposed a series of headline-grabbing spending rises that Brown wanted, with the Treasury citing the spiralling budget deficit as a reason to go easy on fresh spending.
Critics of Balls point out that he was a key architect of the tripartite regulatory system and the brains behind the decision to make the Bank of England target consumer price inflation, decisions that are now highly controversial.
The intense speculation comes as an Ipsos MORI poll published yesterday puts the Conservatives on 40 per cent, and Labour on 18 per cent. This is the Labour Party’s lowest ever poll rating in modern times.
Darling was involved in a number of tense media exchanges yesterday.
When the allegations first surfaced yesterday morning, Darling’s office initially denied any wrongdoing and, speaking shortly afterwards, Brown appeared to back his long-time ally and friend.
But an hour later Darling released a statement now saying he would repay some of his expenses.