Brown rallies UK left

A unexpected tidal wave of support swept into the seaside town of Bournemouth for Gordon Brown, chancellor of the exchequer - the man regarded in some quarters as Tony Blair's rival.

    Sign of the times - but is Brown about to cash in?

    While Brown did not overtly criticise the war in Iraq, he distanced himself from US economic and foreign policies and lauded the "traditional values", which activists say the prime minister has abandoned.


    Britain's finance minister was cheered to the rafters for it, with a two-minute standing ovation and within minutes, the betting shop chain William Hill had made him the evens favourite to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister.


    There was more bad news in stores for Blair when it emerged nearly 60% of Britons said they thought the British prime minister had lied over the threat posed by Iraq in the run-up to the US-led war.

    The news was delivered in an opinion poll published early Tuesday which revealed Blair's popularity ratings have dived since the war.

    He now faces one of the toughest speeches of his career on Tuesday at the ruling Labour Party's annual conference as he tries to ride out anger among activists over his support for the invasion.

    The NOP poll, published by the Independent newspaper, found 41% wanted Blair to resign while 52% did not.

    Other polls have also shown a majority of Britons no longer trust Blair after the failure of US-led forces to find any banned weapons in Iraq, his main justification for the war.

    The NOP poll suggested that replacing Blair with Gordon Brown, an option favoured by many Labour activists, would not boost the party's appeal significantly.

    Labour, on 38%, had a nine-point lead over the opposition Conservatives. If Brown took over as prime minister, Labour's lead would increase by only one point, the poll showed.

    However the findings revealed in Tuesday's poll simply reinforced the speculation, jubilation and hopes of Brown's supporters from the night before.

    “Gordon’s speech was brilliant, terrific,” the leftwing MP Austin Mitchell told “He showed that he was trying to build a fairer society at home, while Tony Blair is jetting off to play boy scouts all over the world.”


    One of Brown’s key pledges was for an increase in public spending, which his aides estimated at £25 billion. “Labour needs not just a programme but a soul” he told the rapt audience, and they responded in kind.


    Soul brother


     “Gordon is now soul brother number one,” said the pop singer and Labour party stalwart, Billy Bragg. “When he uses words like ‘soul’ he is showing that he has a vision, and we need a vision at the moment.”


    To many natural Labour supporters, the Hutton Inquiry into the death of the scientist Dr David Kelly has cemented an impression that the Blair government is obsessed with presentational issues or “spin”.


    Blair braces for toughest Labour
    conference of his leadership 

    Sceptics point out that while Brown has political ambitions to be prime minister, his political positioning on Iraq – and most key debates – differs only slightly from that of Tony Blair.


    One senior policy analyst put the surge in support for the Chancellor down to his rhetoric, which is rhetorically closer to socialist traditions.


    “Most constituency activists don’t have any illusions that electing Gordon will bring about radical change,” he said. “But it will alter the political terrain so that they have more space in which they can operate.”


    Leadership bid


    But not everyone thought that Brown was firing the opening salvo of a leadership bid. According to the former deputy leader Roy Hattersley, “The notion that Gordon’s speech was some sort of leadership challenge is just absolute nonsense.”


    “He was stating his position and the ‘aides’ who say otherwise probably haven’t even spoken to him for the last three years.”


    [Perhaps they were carried away with the previous night’s screening on national television of Stephen Frears’s ‘The deal’.


    That drama provided a semi-factual account of the mid-1990s dinner conversation in which Tony Blair allegedly promised to stand down after one term in office and allow his then-friend and ally to take over.]


    Iraq debate


    On the conference floor though, many linked the spike in support for Brown to the sandbagging of a critical motion on Iraq by the party’s organisers, earlier in the morning.


    “It’s absolutely crazy that we’re not having a debate on the war,” Austin Mitchell fumed. “We’re thrashing about when we could just get it over with once and for all.”


    “At the moment, it is like having a raging sore tooth and not pulling it out.”  


    But can the leadership survive the agony, I asked? Mitchell was not in any doubt:


    “We were given false perspectives as to the reasons why the war was fought”

    Roy Hattersley, ex-deputy Labour leader

    “This conference has been more tightly controlled than any I can remember,” he said. “I think they can get away with anything.”


    Roy Hattersley also sounded a fatalistic note. “I regret that there’s not going to be a debate,” he said. “But I don’t think it was a fix; it was just the way the cards fell.”


    “We were given false perspectives as to the reasons why the war was fought,” he added, “and I would like there to have been a vote on that.”




    The fact that there was not added to a growing sense of disquiet inside and outside the conference chamber, embracing immediate as well as prosaic concerns.


    Two thousand five hundred trades-unionists marched to the Pavilion Theatre to protest the 2,500 manufacturing jobs that they said were being lost to the country every day.


    One marcher, Brian Patterson, a member of the Amicus union’s national executive committee, admitted to “feeling torn” about whether to stay in the party he joined 30 years ago.


    “Until April, I was a Labour Party councillor,” he said. “I went door to door, canvassing for Tony Blair at each election because I thought we were going to get something better than Margaret Thatcher or John Major.”


    Brian had a warning for Blair, all the more salutary for its context in the immediate aftermath of the party’s recent Brent East byelection defeat.


    “We’ve waited and waited and still they tell us to be patient while we keep on losing our jobs,” he said angrily. “Our message to Tony Blair is: 'If our jobs are at risk, then yours will be too, because we won’t campaign to get you re-elected'.” 

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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