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Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
Profile: Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling's strong links with Chancellor Gordon Brown may serve him well as he tries to inject much needed cash in the UK's beleaguered transport network.

As work and pensions secretary, Mr Darling proved himself an on-message safe pair of hands capable of mastering the fine detail.

Those are exactly the qualities he will need as transport secretary - a brief whose profile has soared as the headlines over the state of Britain's roads and railways got worse and worse.

Mr Darling has played a canny game: a loyalist to Tony Blair while keeping a foot firmly in the Brown camp.

1987: Enters Parliament
1988-92: Opposition home affairs spokesman
1992-98: Labour City spokesman
1996-97: Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury
1997-98: Chief secretary to the Treasury
1998-2002: Work and Pensions Secretary
Like many Labour frontbenchers, his views have changed significantly over the years.

He was anti-devolution in 1979, but had become a supporter by the time the Scottish referendum was under way.

He was supposed to be mounting a campaign against Rupert Murdoch's predatory pricing policy, but quietly ditched it when told of Mr Blair's bid to charm the press baron.

He also opposed a proposal by the then Conservative MP Nicholas Budgen to make the Bank of England independent of the government - although independence was one of the first acts of the Labour government on gaining power.

Re-assured the City

Ahead of the 1997 election, Mr Darling was one of the senior Labour figures to tour the boardrooms of the big City firms in a bid to reassure them over Labour's intentions.

Appointed chief secretary to the Treasury in the wake of the election win, Mr Darling was said to have impressed officials for his ability to grasp even the most complicated brief.

He moved rapidly to put into place wide ranging reforms to improve regulation of banking and financial services after the collapse of Barings and the failures associated with BCCI.

Mr Darling's beard was the subject of rumour
Within a few months he was to be moved to replace Harriet Harman as social security secretary (his department later became work and pensions).

In that post, Mr Darling was responsible for spending a third of the government's budget.

He has said that if he is remembered he would like it to be "as the minister who began to eradicate poverty".

But he was one of the targets of angry pensioners who were outraged when their pensions were raised by only 75p last year.

The episode, one of the most damaging of this government's time in office, included a rebellion at Labour's conference in 2000.

Feels Scottish

Mr Darling's constituency in Edinburgh is a fairly middle class one.

Although he was not born in Scotland, he is said to feel Scottish.

His background was similar to Tony Blair's in that they both went to boarding schools.

In Mr Darling's case it was an experience he did not relish.

He has said that people join the Labour Party and become MPs because they want to change things "for the better".

It is this motivation that makes him leave his family at home in Edinburgh each week to pursue his role as a minister.

Beards out

Up until quite recently one of the most famous things about Mr Darling was his insistence on wearing a beard.

Commentators deemed facial hair to be not at all New Labour.

Rumours were rife that Mr Darling's whiskers were given their marching orders.

Eventually he did shave his beard off - despite the fact it was reputedly favoured by his journalist wife Maggie.

His new role will require far tougher decisions as this low-key administrator takes on the transport task that has claimed the frontline careers of many of his predecessors.

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"Friends of Mr Darling speak warmly of his abilities"

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