Brown makes pitch to succeed Blair

Labor speech lays out vision for Britain

September 26, 2006|By Janet Stobart | Janet Stobart,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON -- Gordon Brown, Britain's chancellor of the Exchequer, made a bid yesterday for the post of prime minister during a speech at the annual Labor Party conference in the northern industrial city of Manchester.

Brown, whose ambitions for the office have been at the heart of his party's divisions over the tenure of Prime Minister Tony Blair, told a packed audience of party devotees that he would "relish the opportunity to take on" the opposition Tory party.

Laying out a centrist agenda notably similar to that of the incumbent, Brown gave fulsome praise to Blair's premiership.

"It has been a privilege for me to work with and for the most successful ever Labor leader and Labor prime minister," Brown said in his opening remarks. Blair watched, smiling, from his seat on the podium and later led a standing ovation.

The party has been divided lately, with many back-bench members of Parliament demanding that Blair fulfill his pledge not to serve a fourth term and stand down well before the next election, expected in 2009.

The serious, stoic treasury chief, who lacks Blair's charisma, gave a workmanlike speech, and while it lacked the light touch and jokes that many leading speakers use, it was an improvement on the dour and professorial deliveries the 55-year-old Scot has made in the past, veteran Brown watchers said.

"I've watched him for the last 20 years, and this was a huge improvement," Matthew Parris, a Conservative commentator and former member of Parliament, told a Sky TV reporter. "He used to be abysmal. Now, he's adequate."

In his speech, Brown swung through international co-operation in the war on terrorism, global economic competition, climate change and the need for inter-governmental cooperation to fight for a cleaner environment.

He also spoke on domestic issues, including the National Health Service, which he hailed as "our greatest achievement." He called for more investment in state education. And he promoted achievements under his tenure, which included the privatization of the Bank of England. He said the British economy had become "the most stable economy in the industrialized world."

Brown offered several glimpses of a foreign policy that differed little from that of Blair, who has steadfastly backed the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Blair, he said, "taught us ... that the world did change after September 11th. That no one can be neutral in the fight against terrorism and that we - Britain - have new international responsibilities to discharge."

But he also played to critics of the war in Iraq when he said, "It is my view that in future, Parliament, not the executive, makes the final decisions on matters as important as peace and war."

Janet Stobart writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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