Page last updated at 18:15 GMT, Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Profile: Alistair Darling

Alistair Darling
It is Mr Darling's turn to enter the political centre stage

Chancellor Alistair Darling is seen as one of the quiet men of politics.

As he prepares to present his first Budget to the country he will be aware that he has a hard act to follow.

His predecessor and friend Gordon Brown has, along with Tony Blair, been a dominant force in British politics for more than a decade.

If that were not pressure enough, Mr Darling comes to the despatch box of the House of Commons amid worsening global economic data and the ongoing Northern Rock crisis.

Right-hand man

While rhetorical fire and brimstone were never expected of him, Mr Darling has built up a reputation for competence and being able to handle a crisis.

He will not want to lose this, but he will also be keen to be seen as a major figure in his own right, rather than merely as Mr Brown's right-hand man.

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
2002-2006: Transport secretary
2006-2007: Trade and industry secretary
2007-present: Chancellor

The softly spoken Edinburgh South West MP has long experience to call upon.

Mr Darling was first elected to Parliament in 1987, after a career as an advocate and a short stint as a councillor. He was soon promoted to Labour's front bench.

He was made chief secretary to the Treasury after the 1997 election and continued to be given key cabinet posts.

He replaced Harriet Harman as social security secretary, charged with the formidable task of delivering then prime minister Tony Blair's welfare reforms.

Angry pensioners

In that post, which was renamed work and pensions secretary during his time, Mr Darling was responsible for spending a third of the government's budget.

Alistair Darling
Mr darling was a lawyer before becoming a politician

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.

Then, as transport secretary, Mr Darling moved government policy towards an acceptance of road pricing.

That issue continues to rumble on and led 1.8 million people to sign a petition against it on the Downing Street website.

Mr Darling had, by then, been moved to the Department of Trade and Industry, where he took a lead in suggesting that Britain's future energy needs may have to be met partly by a return to nuclear power.

Treasury crises

All controversial stuff, but it was not until Mr Brown promoted him to chancellor last year that Mr Darling became a true household name - and not for all the right reasons.

The government has been beset by several high-profile crises.

The global credit crunch meant funds needed by the Northern Rock bank dried up. Mr Darling guaranteed all deposits but, after the Treasury failed to find a buyer, the bank was nationalised.

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling
Mr Darling is a long-time ally of Gordon Brown

A slowdown in the economy has been extra fuel for the chancellor's detractors, as has the accusation that he ripped off Tory inheritance tax proposals in his pre-Budget report last autumn.

Businesses were angry at changes to capital gains tax and fearful that plans to levy charges on "non-doms" - UK residents who pay tax elsewhere - could hit the City.

The government's reputation for competence was further dented when HM Revenue and Customs - part of the Treasury - admitted it had lost data discs containing the details of 25 million people.

It has, by any standards, been a rough induction into the chancellorship.

The Budget, then, promises to be one of the most difficult in years.

But, whatever is offered and however loudly his opponents shout and wail, do not expect a fuss from Mr Darling.

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