FORMER Workington MP Sir Tony Cunningham has paid a warm tribute to two former colleagues who became hugely respected political figures.

Former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, who died last week at the age of 70, played a key role in saving the UK from economic meltdown when the credit crisis hit in 2008, while former primary school teacher Glenys Kinnock, 79, who passed away on Sunday, served as a Labour MEP for 15 years.

Sir Tony knew them both.

He recalled being a government whip in 2008 when Darling arrived in his office with news of the looming financial crisis, the early warning signs revealed in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in the US and the failure of Northern Rock in the UK.

“I knew something serious had happened because I’d never seen Alistair in the Whip’s Office before,” said Sir Tony. “What struck me as he told us about the crisis was his calmness.

“He didn’t seem to feel any panic at all. He was matter-of-fact as he explained what was to be one of the defining moments of the early 21st century.

"The whole economy could have collapsed, and almost did. It would all have been a lot worse than it was had it not been for Alistair Darling.

"I have not heard a  bad word said against him. The current chancellor Jeremy Hunt has paid tribute to him as have politicians from the Liberal Democrats - and that’s quite something, to be so universally respected.

“Alistair was one of the few politicians I have met who didn’t seem to have an ego. As far as he was concerned, it wasn’t about him; it was about his constituents.”

Sir Tony spoke also of how Alistair Darling played a key role in ensuring two important nuclear organisations - the National Nuclear Laboratory and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority – were brought to west Cumbria.

“He was a good man,” said Sir Tony.

Recalling Glenys Kinnock, Sir Tony said he worked closely with her during his five years representing Cumbria as an MEP between 1994 and 1999.

He said: “She was a lovely woman. We were both on the International Development Committee and spent a lot of time travelling together, often to investigate some very sad issues.

"I recall, on a flight to Ethiopia, I asked her what she felt her greatest achievement was.

“I wondered if she would say it was supporting her husband Neil [a former Labour Party leader] or something like that but she said it was bringing up two reasonably well-balanced children. She was very committed to her family and very down to earth.”

Glenys Kinnock also had courage, said Sir Tony.

He recalled how he and she had visited the Ethiopian capital with the hope that they could secure the freedom of a dissident doctor, who was being held under “house arrest” at the hospital where he worked.

Even when confronted by a suspicious machine-gun toting soldier, Glenys refused to be deterred, telling him that they had the Prime Minister’s personal permission to speak to the doctor.

“He was eventually freed,” said Sir Tony. He added: “Both Alistair and Glenys were driven by a quest for social justice. They were good people.”

Alistair Darling, who became Lord Darling of Roulanish, was at the centre of the campaign against Scottish independence in the run-up to the 2014 referendum.

His death from cancer was confirmed last week.

Baroness Kinnock, who also served as a minister in Tony Blair's government, was described as a “true fighter” for her party by Sir Keir Starmer. She battled Alzheimer’s for six years and died on Sunday.

Sir Tony served as Workington's MP between 2001 and 2015.