The former Labour Transport Secretary Baron Darling of Roulanish has been described as “one of the great Secretaries of State” and “one of the very few Secretaries of State for Transport who made a difference”, after his death aged 70.
As Alistair Darling, he was Labour’s Transport Secretary from 2002 to 2006 with a brief to “take the department out of the headlines”. In the role he oversaw the creation of the first smart motorway on the M42 in the West Midlands, Traffic Officers and the the National Traffic Control Centre and Regional Control Centres. While he opposed rises in tolls on the Forth Road Bridge (since abolished) he did lead a significant amount of work investigating road pricing. He also created Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation (now the Office of Rail and Road), and gave the government’s support to the Crossrail scheme.
“He was one of the great Secretaries of States for Transport” Stephen Ladyman, who served one of his Ministers in the Department, told Highways News. “He was appointed after a series of high profile controversies affecting the department with the instructions to get transport off the front pages. He did that brilliantly while still moving the key issues forward. He was also a great boss and I loved working with him.”
“Like almost every parliamentarian regardless of party I admired and was very fond of Alistair,” former Conservative Transport Minister and now President of ITS UK Steve Norris told us. “He was one of the very few Secretaries of State for Transport who made a difference and his White Paper was the first that put technology front and centre of the department’s thinking. He was approachable, open minded and thoughtful in equal measure. He will rightly be sorely missed across the political divide.”
Stephen Hammond MP, former Minister for Transport told Highways News: “Alistair was popular and widely respected across the House. He was an engaged and interested Secretary of State for Transport. I would like to send my condolences to his wife and family.”
Eric Sampson, a former DfT civil servant and ITS expert added: “My lasting memory of Alistair was when he started as Secretary of State for Transport. He called the senior staff together and introduced himself and the new Ministerial team and said a few words about his potential enjoyment in the role because of its national importance. He talked about the need for clear policies clearly explained to users. Some of the messages would be contentious and he added “if I’m not on the front pages of the national papers every day ( short pause during which I thought “here we go again, an ego-freak”) then I will be extremely pleased.”
Baron Darling went on to be Business Secretary and then, most famously, Chancellor during the financial crisis of 2008.
(Picture – Lord Darling’s official portrait, 2007, Wikipedia)