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Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK

UK Politics

Brown's barnstormer

Gordon Brown: Still has eyes on leader's job

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

If there was any lingering doubt about Gordon Brown's desire to become prime minister, his barnstorming conference speech laid it to rest.

In a vintage and passionate performance to the party faithful, he delivered a hugely political speech which would not have sounded out of place in the old Labour Party of 20 years ago.

He pledged a return to the policy of full employment, which was at the heart of the post-war consensus but was abandoned by Labour and the Tories in the 1970s.

He promised that the New Deal, which is aimed at getting people off the dole queues and into jobs, would become permanent.

And he even dared talk about "our socialism" as a radical and credible creed for the 21st century.

It was classic Brown, tailored perfectly for his audience - not the CBI or the City, but Labour's core supporters.

Leadership marker

He pushed all the right buttons for the activists who have become increasingly disillusioned with Tony Blair's New Labour - and they loved every second of it.

He also successfully put down his marker as a future leader and prime minister, just days after Tony Blair appeared to slap down his ambitions by signalling he wanted to go one for at least a second term.

[ image: Brown pushed all the right buttons]
Brown pushed all the right buttons
It was a speech littered with Old Labour rhetoric but underpinned by New Labour caution.

For the traditionalists, who still expect their party to be attacking fat cat capitalists, he pledged to tackle privilege and "old boy networks".

He said he would replace poverty and the denial of opportunity with fairness guaranteed to all.

But he also reassured Labour's new, middle England, supporters by promising: "Our enemy is not markets but monopoly, not competition but cartels, not profit but privilege and greed."

There would be no pre-election spending spree and the economic discipline of the past two-and-a-half years would continue, he promised.

Avoided euro

He also carefully avoided any mention of the euro, which has the potential to split the party in two.

There have already been suggestions that Mr Brown is furious at fiercely pro-euro speeches made by Robin Cook and Peter Mandelson during the conference.

He pointedly refused to stoke up the row and aides later insisted he had nothing to say because the government's policy had not changed.

But, while the speech went down a storm in the conference, there was confusion later about exactly what some of the rhetoric meant.

Aides insisted that the chancellor was using the traditional, post-war definition of full employment - that there should be "high and stable" employment.

But they refused to put a figure on exactly what level of unemployment would be acceptable.

They also said that the chancellor's commitment to making the New Deal permanent would be financed from the surplus gained from the windfall tax.

But they also insisted there would be no new money to fund programme, raising speculation that, once the money had run out, the deal would have to end.

But, despite the criticisms there was no doubt that the chancellor had made a huge and positive impact on the conference.

He tried to reassure delegates he was still on the radical wing of the party and he left little doubt that he still had leadership ambitions.

Tony Blair will have a tough job following through with his keynote speech.

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