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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 May 2007, 19:06 GMT 20:06 UK
Iraq decision was right - Brown
Clockwise, from top left: Hilary Benn, Hazel Blears, Jon Cruddas, Alan Johnson, Harriet Harman, Peter Hain
There are six contenders aiming to succeed John Prescott
Gordon Brown has stuck by the decision to go to war in Iraq amid protests at a Labour leadership hustings event.

Mr Brown, who will succeed Tony Blair as prime minister in June, joined six deputy leadership contenders at the event in Coventry.

As he described his humility at being elected Labour leader, a woman shouted "Gordon Brown, get the troops out".

Mr Brown said Iraq had been a "very divisive issue" but he believed the right decisions had been taken.

I take my responsibility as a member of the Cabinet for the collective decisions that we made
Gordon Brown

Shortly after the woman was removed, Mr Brown addressed the issue of Iraq, saying he would be going himself to assess the situation.

He added: "I don't think we should deny the fact that it's been a very difficult issue and it's also been one where public opinion has effectively been divided.

"I take my responsibility as a member of the Cabinet for the collective decisions that we made, and I believe they were the right decisions, but we're at a new stage now".

No timescale

The Sunday Telegraph reported earlier that US President George Bush has been told to expect relations to cool with Britain over Iraq when Mr Brown takes over, and to expect an announcement on troop withdrawal.

But on Sunday Mr Brown said the government was working with the people of Iraq to enable them to run their own security, and did not place a timescale on when British involvement might end.

Outside the event at Warwick University, a group of about 60 Stop The War Coalition members staged a noisy protest and handed out a petition.

No spinning, no briefing, no backbiting, no Brownites, no Blairites
Harriet Harman

The event in Coventry also saw the six deputy leadership candidates, Peter Hain, Hazel Blears, Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn, Harriet Harman and Jon Cruddas make speeches and answer questions.

Topics up for debate included Iraq, anti-social behaviour and the National Health Service.

And they were asked what the one issue was that Labour needed to tackle, in order to win the next general election.

'Big problem'

Mr Cruddas said "people's insecurities at work" needed to be addressed as well as "chronic abuses amongst landlords and criminal gangs".

Housing was top of the agenda for Mr Benn, who said more homes needed to be built if a "big, big problem" was to be avoided.

Mr Hain said that inequality was "the biggest challenge we face as a government".

And Mr Johnson said the party's focus should be social mobility. It is harder now, he said, to escape the shackles of a deprived upbringing in the UK "than in practically any other country in the world".

Ms Blears said people wanted "a better job, better home, better education, certainly a better future for the next generation".

Ms Harman said Labour had to "win back the trust and the confidence of the British people".

Many of the candidates hailed party unity as one of the most important aspect of the job of deputy leader.

Ms Blears said: "We have a fabulous opportunity over the next two years ... to have a united, strong, confident Labour Party with no Brownites, no Blairites and to celebrate the achievements we have made."

The sentiment was echoed by Mr Benn who said there was "no place for factionism" in the party.

Ms Harman added: "It's not just about policies, it's about how we implement them."

The six now take part in another nine hustings around the UK and voting forms will go out to Labour Party members, MEPs and trade unionists from 1 June, with the ballot due to close on Friday, 22 June.

The winner will be announced at a special Labour conference on 24 June, when Chancellor Gordon Brown is expected to be crowned the party's new leader.

He is not facing a contest as his only rival failed to gain enough nominations to get on to the ballot.

An anti-war protester heckles Gordon Brown


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