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Last Updated: Monday, 25 September 2006, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Brown put his case to be PM
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News Website

This conference was always going to love Gordon Brown, it always has. But, this year, that was not the point.

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown made a direct plea for top job
The question the chancellor had to answer in his big speech this time was whether he could also get the party and public to embrace him as the next prime minister.

The fact that he was bidding for the soon-to-be-vacant post was left in no doubt.

He made his most direct pitch ever for the crown, declaring he would "relish the opportunity to take on David Cameron and the Conservative Party". (So much for not discussing the leadership).

The plea seemed almost designed to encourage the prime minister to stand up for his speech tomorrow and declare "OK Gordon, over to you".

The chancellor, who spent precious little time speaking to his Treasury brief, was even wearing a purple tie - the colour of royalty and power.

As Tony Blair nodded his apparent support from the platform. the conference offered Mr Brown the most vocal backing in his job application - his references here are still pretty secure.

Cherie furious

But he knew he needed to do more than that after a couple of weeks that has seen his agenda and character under scrutiny like never before.

And he addressed those concerns head on. Most surprisingly, perhaps, by admitting he and the prime minister had fallen out on occasions in the past, and offering his regret for that.

Whether the prime minister agreed with suggestion that he, too, regretted it brought no flicker of expression either way from Mr Blair, although Bloomberg news agency reported Cherie was less than impressed.

Tony Blair
Blair has made first farewell speech at TUC

Mr Brown also attempted to offer glimpses of what a Brown government would be like - full of "all the talents", green, modernising, New Labour and, above all, with a soul.

He hinted at the possibility of introducing a written constitution to underpin all that was best about the country's shared beliefs and values, pledged to give parliament votes on going to war and put devolving power to individuals and local institutions centre of his agenda.

He acknowledged people wanted to know more about him as a person and, to that end, spoke again of the "moral compass" his mother and father had given him.

He also attempted to explain why he talked so much of Britishness, when he was a Scot, insisting it was nothing to do with being embarrassed about his nationality but proud of being both Scottish and British.

Not everyone was enthralled by it and there were the inevitable rumblings that his pledge to continue New Labour reforms mean it would be more of the same.

Supremacy?

But the chancellor tried very hard to walk that tightrope by suggesting his reform would be in different areas, such as the constitution, and of a different nature to those that have gone before.

This was Gordon Brown perhaps acknowledging that his leadership chances may have slipped just a little over the past couple of weeks and attempting to put himself back on track as the obvious successor to Tony Blair.

He knows he will face a leadership election, thanks to left-wing challenger John McDonnell. What he still does not know is whether he will also have to take on a senior, perhaps Cabinet-level Blairite. So this was an undisguised election speech.

All the talk about making this conference about policy, not the leadership question, went out of the window the moment he got to his feet.

With the succession dominating every debate, speech and fringe meeting of the conference, how could it have been any different.

Mr Brown probably did enough to reassert his supremacy ahead of any forthcoming battle, and all eyes will now turn to those possible contenders.

They will most likely wait to gauge how Mr Brown's pitch goes down with the wider electorate before they make that crucial judgement of whether or not to run.

And, unless Tony Blair has a surprise up his sleeve for his big, farewell performance on Tuesday, that could still be nine months away.




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