Comment: Gordon Brown outlines leadership credentials

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.’s Tony Grew analyses how much Gordon Brown’s Labour Party conference speech signifies his leadership credentials.

Gordon Brown has staked his claim on the premiership with an outstanding speech to the Labour party conference in Manchester.

His address was overshadowed by Blairites telling anyone who would listen that Brown cannot win the next election. In his speech the Chancellor showed delegates why he is the only real successor to Tony Blair.

He directly acknowledged that there had been differences with the Prime Minister throughout the nine years of the Labour government, and for the first time expressed regret for those clashes.

Mr Brown praised Blair saying “it has been a privilege to work with and for the most successful Labour Prime Minister, building new Labour and winning three elections.”

Blair, sitting on the podium, seemed genuinely impressed by the Chancellor’s speech and had a broad grin on his face throughout. For those expecting Brown to return to old Labour policies the speech brought only disappointment.

Brown said the politics of the last century were not fit for purpose now, and set out the main theme of the future of politics as one of moving power from central government to local communities and individuals, “a Britain of we the people working together.”

Building on the success of giving the Bank of England control over interest rates, the Chancellor told conference of the need to separate the decisions that government must take from the day to day administration of those decisions.

The most significant change will come in the NHS. Over the weekend the Chancellor revealed plans to have a management board take control of the health service out of the hands of ministers.

The speech contained many new policy commitments, in what can only be seen as Brown’s blueprint for the future of Labour. Many will be welcomed by rank and file members. The PM-in-waiting pledged that parliament would in future have a vote on whether or not to go to war, as many MPs have called for.

Mr Brown praised the PM’s firm stance on terrorism, and said the world was changed forever on September 11th 2001.

“No-one can be neutral in the war against terrorism,” he told delegates, and pledged himself and the party to continue the fight, while urging action on Darfur, and reminding the party of their responsibility to bring liberty and democracy to the poorest in the world.

Mr Brown made a point of naming other cabinet members and singling them out for praise, in a naked attempt to appear inclusive. But the bulk of his appreciation took the form of a farewell to Blair, citing his “immense national and international contribution.”

Brown spoke at length about his own upbringing, saying that his parents were his inspiration, inculcating into the young Gordon and his brothers the importance of duty, responsibility and respect, honesty and hard work.

“The wasted talent of millions, that is why I joined the Labour party. More than a programme, we must have a soul.”

He mourned the waste of talent in Britain, not just as a moral failure, but an economic one too. He acknowledged the contributions of voluntary organisations in helping young people, but criticised Conservative plans to hand over services to them.

Brown said that the “third sector” must be a partner of the state and not a cheap replacement, but also pointed to the “limits of the private sector and the limits of the state.”

He gave strong backing to plans for youth community national service, and pointed out that in a competitive global economy we cannot afford to waste the talent of any child. Since 1997 education has been expanded for the under 5s and the over 16s.

Brown also repeated his pledge to raise the investment in every child in state secondary education to eight thousand pounds a year, in line with private schools, and called on all parties to make a similar pledge.

He pushed some old Labour buttons with a pledge to not just raise the minimum wage but effectively enforce it, and pledged to create a million more shared equity homes to allow ordinary people to achieve the dream of owning their own home.

Brown also pledged to double the investment in social housing.

The Chancellor attempted to take the initiative on climate change, calling for global co-operation and telling delegates that 100,000 new jobs could be created in new environmental industries in the UK. He spoke about collective and personal responsibility, and announced an eye-catching $20bn initiative to help the poorest countries go green.

Perhaps the most controversial section of the speech dealt with British identity. The Chancellor stated bluntly that the UK needs a common language and that all immigrants must learn English. He built on this theme, saying that only an understanding of British culture would lead to true integration among all groups in the country.

“Let us expose and banish the the race-based exclusivity that is the message of the BNP,” he told delegates, in what was also a direct attack on the concept of multi-culturalism.

Brown reminded conference that he had fought “narrow nationalism” in Scotland his whole life, and declared he is proud to be Scottish and British, calling for a shared national purpose in the face of factional ideals that could lead to the end of the union.

The most striking passage of the speech came when Brown spoke about his own personality. Describing himself as a “quite private person,” he spoke about the cult of celebrity in politics. He spoke directly to those critics who describe him as not charismatic enough to lead the party, saying that if the future of politics is just about personality then there is no place for him in it.

In the best line of the speech, he said: “I am more interested in the future of the Arctic Circle, not the Arctic Monkeys.

“I would relish the opportunity to take on David Cameron and the Conservative party.”

Judging by the standing ovation he received from the delegates, it is almost certain he will be given that opportunity. The camera panned along his putative opponents applauding from the conference floor, and it was hard to see how any of them could present such a wide-ranging vision for the party and the country.

This was described as a make-or-break speech for the Chancellor, and he rose to the occasion with the required intelligence, articulacy and just a touch of emotion. He is definitely the one to beat, as next party leader and as next Prime Minister.