Brown to aim for ‘Middle England’ in keynote speech

Gordon Brown will be going back to Tony Blair’s policies as he addresses the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on Tuesday in a speech that could make or break Labour’s election chances next year.


On the third day of the conference on England’s south coast, the beleaguered PM is expected to rally the Labour Party and reach out to disillusioned voters by making a shift to Blairism ahead of a general election to be held by June next year.

Brown is expected to announce a series of new policies echoing the tough legislation concerning “Middle England” that former prime minister Tony Blair championed when Labour came to power in 1997.

Top of Brown’s agenda are plans to toughen up of laws on anti-social behaviour, including drinking banning orders and threatening parents of children with ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders introduced in 1998 to restrict the movement of violent or anti-social young people) with losing their benefits if they fail to discipline their children.

Brown will also discuss how he intends to further clean up the economy in the wake of the financial crisis.

A string of problems this year

Back in May, hardly two years into Brown’s troubled mandate, the prime minister was battered by the tax expenses scandal. Leaked accounts of ministerial expense claims showed the system of allowances was being abused by parliament members. Labour, being the party in power, bore the brunt of the public’s fury.

Since then, Brown’s plight has worsened amid growing anger over the number of British casualties in Afghanistan, the release of the Lockerbie bomber in August and, arguably, general voter malaise after 12 years of Labour government. The former chancellor also faced embarrassing speculation over claims he took anti-depressants. This culminated in a direct question on his alleged “pill-popping” in a BBC interview on Sunday, which he refused to answer.

Brown’s miserable time at No 10 Downing Street has contrasted sharply with his decade as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Blair, during which time he earned considerable credit for presiding over consistent economic growth.

It is perhaps no surprise that as prime minister, Brown only really appeared comfortable when dealing with the economic crisis. His steadfastness and a swiftly bail-out of the UK banking system redeemed his perceived lack of charisma, albeit only in part.

Little credit for Brown’s credit crunch solutions

But in a Populus poll published in the British daily the Times on Tuesday, 47 percent of people polled said the PM deserves only “a little credit” for his handling of the crisis. Significantly, 73 percent said that economic recovery would make no difference to their vote.

Labour ministers have rallied around their leader – in particular his business minister, Peter Mandelson, who gave a rousing speech at the conference on Monday praising his boss and saying “underdogs” Labour needed to fight “like insurgents, not incumbents” to make a comeback, and could do it.

Lord Mandelson also criticised Brown’s younger, more dynamic rival for the leadership, Conservative Party leader David Cameron, for his “shallowness” and lack of experience compared to the Labour leader.

Is Labour limping to defeat?

Yet, it is not just Brown’s survival but that of the party as a whole that is at stake as it faces the prospect of a drubbing in next year’s general election.

A Times editorial on Tuesday read: “..for all the talk of leadership plots and dignified exits, White House snubs and prescription drugs, this is no longer just about the future of the Prime Minister — it is also about the future of the party that he leads.

“After more than a decade in power, the coalition of working and middle-class voters that swept it to victory in 1997 is fracturing.”

But British voters still remember the dark days of the early 1990s in Conservative-led, recession-hit Britain. This, plus triangulation of policies and heartening speeches from the likes of Lord Mandelson could yet save Brown, and his party.

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