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Last Updated: Monday, 25 June 2007, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Brown aim 'to reduce union power'
Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown will become prime minister on Wednesday

New Labour leader Gordon Brown wants to reduce the influence of trade unions within the party, the BBC has learned.

His proposals would stop unions shaping policy at Labour's annual conference and give individual members more say.

He has recommended to Labour's National Executive that union-backed motions be replaced by debates on general issues, says BBC correspondent James Hardy.

Mr Brown formally took over the party on Sunday, with Harriet Harman winning a tight race to be deputy leader.

In his acceptance speech on becoming leader, Mr Brown promised to give the party not just policies but "a soul".

1. Harman: 50.4%
2. Johnson: 49.6%
3. Cruddas: Out
4. Benn: Out
5. Hain: Out
6. Blears: Out
The final result comes after eliminated contestants' next preferences reallocated

He praised Tony Blair and pledged to "renew" the party to meet voters' changing aspirations.

Political correspondent James Hardy said that, although Mr Brown spent "barely 30 seconds in a 30 minutes speech" on party democracy, behind the scenes he has been planning "controversial changes".

Mr Brown pledged to give party members the final say on Labour's policy programme through a "one member one vote" system.

In effect that means ending the conference's role as Labour's sovereign policy-making body and greatly increasing the part played by individual members.

Iraq lessons 'to be learned'

Mr Brown was introduced to Labour activists at a special conference in Manchester on Sunday by Tony Blair, who described him as a "friend for over 20 years and from today the leader of our party, very soon to be the leader of our country".

Mr Brown singled out education and the crisis in affordable housing as two of his top priorities, promising more social housing and help for people to get on the property ladder.

I shall always try my utmost. I am ready to serve
Gordon Brown
Labour Party leader

But he said the NHS was his "immediate priority," adding he wanted to discuss "a new settlement for a modern NHS" with more power in the hands of patients and staff.

On foreign affairs, he acknowledged Iraq had been "a divisive issue for our party and our country" and he pledged to " learn lessons that need to be learned".

He said that Harriet Harman, who pipped Alan Johnson to win the six-way race to succeed John Prescott as deputy Labour leader, would be Labour Party chairwoman.

Snap election

And he sparked speculation that he might call a General Election next year, rather than waiting until 2009 or 2010, by announcing he had appointed Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander as the party's general election co-ordinator.

Former Labour Party treasurer Baroness Prosser told the BBC: "I don't think a snap election is on the cards at all."

She said she understood that the party finances were "in a pretty dire state".

Although she expected more money to start coming in once Mr Brown was prime minister, she said it would "take time to build up the infrastructure of the party".

She also said proposals to reduce union influence at the party conference had been "on the cards for a while", but had been brought into "sharp focus" by the merger of the T&G and Amicus unions.

Asked about a possible snap election, Ms Harman told the BBC it was "pure speculation" and a matter for Mr Brown to decide.

Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman
Ms Harman becomes deputy leader and party chairwoman

An early election would suit Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell who says Mr Brown should call one as: "Neither Labour members nor the British public have chosen the new prime minister."

The Conservatives have also said Mr Brown needs to call an election to get a mandate to govern.

Both parties have said they are prepared in case Mr Brown decided to call a snap election after taking over as prime minister.

Tory leader David Cameron told the BBC he was providing "an exciting and inspiring alternative to a government that I believe has failed, and that's what I am going to focus on: a relentlessly-positive agenda".

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