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Last Updated: Friday, 23 November 2007, 15:14 GMT
Chancellor left sick as a parrot
By David Porter
Westminster correspondent, BBC Scotland

"It never rains but it pours" - you see we political commentators, like football pundits, love our cliches.

We tend to explain it away by saying they're a convenient form of shorthand.

Of course, football and politics have a number of things in common.

Both are competitive, contact sports where team work is MEANT to be at a premium.

Steve McClaren
Steve McClaren paid the price for an under-performing team

To coin another phrase, both the sacked English manager and the pilloried (but NOT dismissed) chancellor, Alistair Darling, could be forgiven for feeling "sick as a parrot" this weekend.

Steve McClaren's "sin" was obvious.

As the manager of a team from the nation that gave the world football, this week he failed to galvanise his well-paid players to perform well enough to qualify for next year's European football championships.

All fairly straight forward then - you fail, you go!!

Alistair Darling's situation is a bit more complicated. He doesn't earn his living kicking a bag of wind about - he is very much a rugby man incidentally.

His job is to steer the economy in the right direction. But critics say of late his form has been anything but impressive.

Traditionally Mr Darling has been seen as the ultimate political safe pair of hands.

Match fit

He was drafted into the transport department and the Scotland Office, and in both cases, he managed to dampen down bad headlines. But in his five months at the Treasury some see signs of a loss of form.

Have events such as Northern Rock and the benefits data fiasco left Mr Darling looking more like Scott Carson (the unfortunate English goalkeeper who committed a huge howler in this week's match)?

Neither were the chancellor's fault, of course, but they happened on his watch.

Whatever else he may argue, Mr Darling cannot claim he was not match fit.

He's had plenty of outings in the Commons for team HM Treasury of late.

At the start of the week, he had to defend his handling of the crisis at Northern Rock, in the face of claims that he hasn't been honest about the risks facing taxpayers, as part of his efforts to prop up the ailing bank.

Mr Darling insisted that protecting taxpayers' interests would be his priority in deciding the future of Northern Rock - and he said the huge emergency loan, granted by the Bank of England two months ago, was secured against "high quality assets" held by the mortgage lender.

Alistair Darling
The chancellor has been the man up front on recent outings

The opposition parties said the chancellor's approach had been one of "weakness" and "incompetence".

The following day he was back again but this time Alistair Darling revealed details of an unprecedented security breach in which discs containing the details of 25 million people were lost by HM Revenue and Customs.

In an emergency statement (up a notch in terms of seriousness from the day before) Mr Darling told the Commons that the discs went missing when a junior member of staff put them in the internal post in response to a request from the National Audit Office.

When Mr Darling told MPs the full extent of the mistake, there was genuine disbelief.

Here at Westminster people are now wondering aloud if these "crises" could spell something more serious for the Labour team manager, Gordon Brown?

The Conservatives have been quick to take this analogy further.

They've branded Gordon Brown the Steve McClaren of British politics calling him "the number two who couldn't hack it at number one".

Own goals

In the early months of Team Brown everyone seemed to be playing a good game as the reds enjoyed a comfortable lead over the opposition.

But the manager's tactics came under question after conference season.

His defence started to look leaky after the decision not to call an early election and the blue team began scoring.

Things were made worse when some his key players started scoring own goals.

Inexperienced midfielder Jacqui Smith (the Home Secretary) had to admit 5,000 illegal immigrants were working in government security jobs.

Then ultimate blocker Alistair Darling (who wears the number 11 shirt at the Treasury) dropped the ball into his own net after being forced to admit the government had lost 25 million child benefit records.

And John McFall, head of the Treasury Select Committee (and another very experienced player) has said recent events are a "challenge of leadership" for the prime minister.

That doesn't quite rank with the football chairman's "full confidence" in a manager (which more often than not can be a poison chalice) but coming from someone as highly regarded as Mr McFall it is worthy of note.

So is this just a run of bad form that will soon pass or is it something more serious?

To use another well worn cliché "only time will tell".

Ministers know they've taken a big knock following the data security breach, they will be hoping the government will not get a reputation for incompetence.

Supporters and opponents will be watching closely, things can change very quickly.

Politics like football, it seems, is "a game of two halves".

SEE ALSO
Home truths and sailors' sayings
16 Nov 07 |  Scotland
Pageantry over, time for politics
09 Nov 07 |  Scotland
Election fiasco 'a perfect storm'
26 Oct 07 |  Scotland
Commons grilling for Gordon Brown
12 Oct 07 |  Scotland
Tories say farewell to Blackpool
04 Oct 07 |  Scotland
Struck down by 'election fever'
28 Sep 07 |  Scotland
Ming the Merciless strikes back
21 Sep 07 |  Scotland
Tea, scones and smiles at meeting
20 Jul 07 |  Scotland
Westminster fog begins to clear
13 Jul 07 |  Scotland

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