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Brown comes out fighting at Labour convention

Latest update : 2008-09-21

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown came out of his Labour Party's annual conference - where he faced growing discontent and rebellious MPs - pledging to do "whatever it takes" to tackle the financial crisis.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown came out fighting Saturday at the Labour Party conference, pledging "whatever it takes" to tackle the financial crisis despite a budding rebellion against him.
   
Brown went into the annual convention, in Manchester, north-west England, dogged by questions about how long he could keep the job he took over from Tony Blair 15 months ago, after a string of resignations in protest at his leadership.
   
But he tried to grab back the initiative as the five-day conference began with an unscripted speech highlighting his economic pedigree and urging his party members to focus "all our energies" on the business of government.
   
The speech, which drew a standing ovation, will be seen as a defiant message to rebels just days after four lawmakers who spoke out against Brown were forced from their jobs and 12 declared their support for a leadership contest.
   
"When people ask what we will do to sort out the financial system... I tell you in three words -- whatever it takes," Brown, who was Blair's finance minister for 10 years, said during a question-and-answer session.
   
"All our efforts, all our undivided efforts, all our energies, all our determination, all our efforts (should be) to do what this party knows it does best and that is to serve all the people of this country."
   
Brown also contrasted Labour's economic policies with the media-friendly main opposition Conservatives, led by David Cameron who according to a Daily Telegraph/YouGov poll Saturday are ahead of Labour by 17 percentage points.
   
"At testing times like these, this is not about public relations and it's not about slogans and it's not about whether you've got the right language, the real test is of your judgment, the real test is of the choices you make," he said.
   
Brown contrasted Tory reluctance to regulate the markets with Labour's support for the takeover of Britain's biggest mortgage lender HBOS by Lloyds TSB and its backing for a temporary ban on the short-selling of shares.
   
The prime minister's upbeat performance came after two pieces of good news for him ahead of the conference.
   
The first came when Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, a personal friend of Brown, donated one million pounds (1.3 million euros, 1.8 million dollars) to Labour, which is nearly 18 million pounds in debt.
   
"I believe that poor and vulnerable families will fare much better under the Labour Party than they would under a Cameron-led Conservative Party," said Rowling, a struggling single mother when she penned the first Potter book.
   
The second came as senior government ministers rallied around Brown, including Foreign Secretary David Miliband, widely seen as the frontrunner to take over from Brown should he be forced out of office.
   
Miliband told the Daily Mirror newspaper that the conference should be about Labour showing "a strong, determined, clear, unified face.
   
"I don't think it's the time for a leadership election," he added.
   
A YouGov survey of 1,200 Labour members in the Sunday Times showed 52 percent were opposed to an immediate leadership contest, although almost the same number view Brown as "indecisive and dithering".
   
Justice Secretary Jack Straw, the government's most experienced figure, revealed that he had rebuffed rebel bids to secure his support for toppling Brown, telling the Daily Telegraph: "The imperative is for unity."
   
This time last year, Labour were well ahead in the polls amid fevered speculation that Brown would call a snap general election to capitalise on his popularity, but he pulled back, triggering a slide in support later compounded by the near-collapse of the Northern Rock bank.
   
Rebels have accused Brown, who will deliver his keynote speech Tuesday, of lacking the fresh ideas and charisma to pull Labour out of its slump.
   
"Gordon is like a Damien Hirst sheep -- trapped in formaldehyde, he lacks the qualities needed for a bold leap that would free him from his own goo," backbencher Alan Simpson said.
   
Around 15,000 people are attending the conference, which runs to Wednesday.

Date created : 2008-09-21

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