'Lie' claim takes gloss of Brown's bid
GORDON Brown's conference speech to the Labour Party conference yesterday became mired in controversy after the Prime Minister's wife allegedly took exception to references to his close relationship with Tony Blair, with journalists overhearing her saying “that's a lie.
By Graham Dines
GORDON Brown's conference speech to the Labour Party conference yesterday became mired in controversy after the Prime Minister's wife allegedly took exception to references to his close relationship with Tony Blair, with journalists overhearing her saying “that's a lie.”
Downing Street issued a denial of the incident but Bloomberg Business Television refused to retract the story that Mrs Blair had stormed away from the company's hospitality stand in the Manchester conference centre, which was relaying a live feed of the Chancellor's speech from the hall.
The incident threatened to shatter the fragile truce that has broken out between the two men in an effort to put on a show of unity at Tony Blair's last conference as leader.
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Mr Brown, who is favourite to succeed Mr Blair when he resigns some time in the next eight months, told delegates: “It has been a privilege for me to work with and for the most successful ever Labour leader and Labour Prime Minister.
“In the time we've been MPs - working together for more than 23 years - I believe that we have real achievements together.”
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But in a reference to the feud said to exists between the two men, and which was reignited by Mrs Blair's alleged comments, Mr Brown said: “It's hardly surprising that as in any relationship, there have been times when we've differed.
“And where over these years, differences have distracted from what matters, I regret that, as I know Tony does too.”
The Chancellor's speech had been previewed as the most important of his political career, giving him the opportunity to speak to the Labour Party as the natural successor to the Prime Minister.
Although the speech received warm and sustained applause at the end, it was not greeted with a massive outpouring of cheering. The most enthusiastic response came when he said: “I would relish the opportunity to take on David Cameron and the Conservative Party.”
One section of the speech was given over to a deeply personal account of his upbringing in a Scottish manse and the high regard in which he held his parents.
He urged all political parties to back equal opportunities in education and support his priority for the future - “invest in education first.”
He made great play of his Britishness to head off possible objections to a Brown premiership because of devolution to Scotland.
“When I'm in England, some people say I talk about Britishness because I'm now embarrassed about being Scottish. Let me say I am proud to be Scottish and British.
“The reason I make speeches about my pride in Britain and Britishness is that valuing our shared purpose as a country will be critical to our success and cohesion in this new century as in the last, when we together defeated fascism and built the NHS.”
The Chancellor made great emphasis on the need for new arrivals in the UK to be able to speak English and to accept British values.
“It is right that people who come to and are in this country to stay learn English, have some sense of what it means to be British, of our history and our culture, and through citizenship tests and citizenship ceremonies take British citizenship seriously.”
Mr Brown suggested that if he becomes Prime Minister, he will introduce a written constitution for the first time in Britain's history. And just as he made the Bank of England independent, he will set the National Health Service free from politicians' interference.”
He said it was the personal and collective responsibility of everyone to change their behaviour to overcome the threat of climate change.
Third world countries needed help to tackle the problem of global warming. But he added: “Tackling climate change must not be the excuse for rich countries to impose a new environmental colonialism, sheltering an unsustainable prosperity at the expense of the development of the poor.
“Britain will call on the World Bank and our international partners to create, for alternative energy for poorer countries, a $20billion global fund, meeting our obligations that to safeguard our common planet, making sure the financial resources of the richest countries should be put at the service of the poor.”