British PM bids to silence rebels in crunch speech

British PM bids to silence rebels in crunch speech

Manchester: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hoped to silence critics Tuesday , 23 September, with a make-or-break speech to the Labour Party conference, which is convulsed with talk of plotting against him.

Brown was under pressure to give one of the best addresses of his career at the convention in Manchester, northwest England, to convince rebels he should hang on to the job he took over from Tony Blair just 15 months ago.

The dour 57-year-old Scot, Blair’s finance minister for a decade, has united his party here, at least in public, by arguing his experience best qualifies him to steer Britain through the current economic turbulence.

But he must build up long-term goodwill before lawmakers return to parliament after the summer break on 6 October, when commentators say the rebellion could flare up again.

He was expected to emphasize his economic experience during the speech at 2:15pm (1315 GMT) while highlighting personal crises like losing the sight in one eye at age 16, which he says gave him the determination to triumph over adversity.

Its theme was to be “fairness" and a promise to “create rules that reward those who play by them and punish those who don’t," the BBC reported.

“In this world of vast economic and social change, new opportunity for all must be matched with a new responsibility from all," it said Brown would tell the conference.

“Our aim is a something-for-something Britain, nothing-for-nothing Britain."

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

The speech represents a turning point in deciding whether Brown stays in Downing Street long-term, the right-wing Daily Mail newspaper said in an editorial.

“The Prime Minister must make the speech of his life," it said. “There’s still just a chance that, 12 months from now, people will be reflecting... on what a difference a year makes."

Four junior members of the government left their jobs this month after questioning Brown’s leadership, 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/Sunday Independent poll this week put Labour 12 percent behind the main opposition Conservatives, led by David Cameron.

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

After his speech Monday, Miliband was overheard saying he had toned it down to avoid a “Heseltine moment", the BBC reported.

This was a reference to former Conservative Cabinet minister Michael Heseltine’s doomed ambition to succeed Margaret Thatcher, who was forced from office in 1990.

Even if his conference speech does go down well with party loyalists, 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 strongholds.

One rebel lawmaker, Graham Stringer, told BBC radio it would be “surprising" if there were not a leadership challenge by mid-2009.

He contrasted the mood of public unity in Manchester with the speculation among insiders in private.

“I think there are two conferences—there’s the one going on in the hall and there’s the one that takes place in the bars and the fringe meetings," he said.