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Latest update : 2008-09-23

In a make-or-break speech at the Labour Party Conference, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought to silence his critics by promising to provide a "rock of stability" in the current financial crisis.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought Tuesday to quell critics in his governing Labour Party by pledging to provide a "rock of stability" in the current global financial crisis.

In what was seen as a make-or-break speech, he promised improvements in schooling and healthcare, while vowing to help "rebuild the world financial system" after the recent turmoil.

"This is no time for a novice," he said, taking repeated aim at David Cameron, leader of the main opposition Conservatives, who are way ahead in the opinion polls and aiming to oust Brown in the next general election, due by May 2010.

"This last week will be studied by our children -- as the week the world spun on its axis and old certainties were turned on their heads," he said, in a speech notable for personal references.

"In these uncertain times, we must be, we will be, the rock of stability and fairness upon which people stand," added Brown, who drew two standing ovations during the speech.

Brown, who has faced growing criticism within his own centre-left party, was introduced by his wife Sarah for his keynote speech on the last full day of Labour's annual conference in Manchester, northwest England.

In a clear dig at media-friendly Cameron -- and some would suggest his own predecessor in Downing Street, Tony Blair -- he said "I didn't come into politics to be a celebrity or thinking I'd always be popular.

"Perhaps that's just as well," he said, to laughter from the party faithful who have seen Labour plunge to record poll lows more than 20 percentage points behind the Conservatives.

The British premier, who was dubbed the Iron Chancellor when he oversaw a decade-long economic boom as finance minister in Blair's government, also pitched himself as a safe pair of hands in the current global market turmoil.

"It falls to this party and to this government... that we do all it takes to stabilise the still-turbulent financial markets, and then in the months ahead we rebuild the world financial system around clear principles," he said.

Last week's financial chaos saw the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers, the nationalisation of US insurer AIG and the takeover of HBOS, Britain's biggest mortgage lender.

Commentators said in advance of the address that it represents a turning point in deciding whether Brown stays in Downing Street long-term.

Four junior members of the government left their jobs this month after questioning Brown's stewardship, while 12 lawmakers have called for a leadership contest.

Labour will have to battle hard to secure a fourth term in the next general election, which must be held before mid-2010.

A ComRes/Independent on Sunday poll this week put Labour 12 percent behind the Conservatives.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband is favourite to take over if Brown goes but says he does not want a leadership contest.

Speaking to AFP minutes after Brown's speech, Miliband said it was "the best speech of the week".

Asked if it was enough to silence rebels, he said: "I think that, assuming they listened to this speech, it was powerful, clear and demonstrated he is the man to do it."

Even if his conference speech goes down well with party loyalists -- and initial reactions were positive -- Brown faces several challenges in the coming months which could still trigger his departure.

The first is a by-election in Glenrothes, the neighbouring constituency to his own north of Edinburgh, where the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) could snatch the seat from Labour.

The by-election is likely to take place in November, and will be the fourth Labour has contested this year. It has lost all of them, including two in traditional strongholds.

Date created : 2008-09-23