Page last updated at 09:06 GMT, Monday, 18 February 2008

The political fall-out from Rock

By Jo Coburn
BBC Political correspondent

Alistair Darling
Embarrassment for the man at Number 11 Downing Street

It was the announcement the government never wanted to make - taking Northern Rock into public ownership.

The chancellor had always said it was an option but it was certainly the least favourite.

So after four months of searching for a commercial buyer, it must have been a very difficult moment for Alistair Darling having to admit that the two private proposals on the table were just not good enough and didn't offer the taxpayer value for money.

At Sunday's press conference Mr Darling could hardly bring himself to use the dreaded N-word, opting to talk about public ownership instead.

Why such reluctance?

Because it is too much an echo of the past - an association with Labour governments from another era.

1970s socialism?

The government's decision to nationalise a bank can hardly be seen as a return to socialist dogma but it has given the Conservatives the opportunity to call it a throwback to the 1970s and repeat their charge of ministers dithering.

The shadow chancellor George Osborne has called the decision "catastrophic", although until now they had not been forthcoming about what they would have done over the past four months.

It is clear though they will oppose the government's plans for nationalisation when they are presented on Monday in legislation to MPs on their return from a week's break.

Alistair Darling will make a statement followed no doubt by vigorous debate and ultimately a vote on the proposed measure.

Even with Conservative opposition, the Bill will go through with the support of the Liberal Democrats who have been in favour of nationalisation all along.

The Tories have also made it clear that they will not slow down the passage of the legislation.

In control?

So what of Alistair Darling's reputation?

Yvette Cooper, chief secretary to the Treasury has said he made a cool, rational decision that will in the end prove to be the best option for the taxpayer.

It is true the public may get its money back with interest, but the very fact that a British bank has had to be nationalised could well tarnish the reputation of the City abroad and the credibility of the man, once viewed as a safe pair of hands in charge of the Treasury.

When Alistair Darling stands up in the House of Commons on Monday it will be difficult for him to look like he's a man in control of events.

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