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Last Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Lukewarm welcome for Brown
By James Hardy
Political correspondent, BBC News

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown received applause - but it was muted

Labour leaders are rarely cheered to the rafters at the TUC but even by their standards Gordon Brown's welcome was muted.

The massed ranks of the unions applauded politely enough as Mr Brown took the platform in Brighton but thereafter listened to his speech in virtual silence.

It wasn't that they were particularly hostile - everyone here is just thankful he's not Tony Blair, who was never seen as a friend of the union movement.

Mr Brown simply failed to set them alight.

The blunt message on public sector pay and his refusal to bow to demands for a higher settlement wasn't unexpected but neither was it welcome.

The TUC is as one on the issue. The offer to public sector workers was too low and the decision to stage it added insult to injury.

Divisions

Mr Brown tried soft soap, praising the unions' role in Labour history, and he tried a jobs package, promising to get 500,000 unemployed people into work. All to no avail.

The response from union leaders afterwards was, at best, lukewarm.

They approve of the noises coming from Mr Brown's government - ministers are in Brighton in large numbers - and they were happy with the tenor of his remarks.

But behind the scenes there are divisions.

Aside from the pay row, there's universal anger at Mr Brown's plan to water down union power and influence at the Labour conference.

And there's irritation from the other side at an attempt by the GMB union to rally the TUC behind its call for a referendum on the forthcoming EU treaty.

That would leave Mr Brown, who's determined not to hold a referendum, in the acutely embarrassing position of being stuck in the middle of an unlikely alliance between the TUC and the Conservative Party.

So far, the GMB is standing firm in the face of massive pressure to back down and it has solid support from a range of other influential unions.

Labour wrangle

It's not just for reasons of fraternal solidarity that ministers are out in strength. They're arguing the toss both on Europe and on controversial plans for constitutional change at the Labour conference.

The prime minister wants to scrap the so-called contemporary resolutions that are routinely used by the unions to force through policies - often by using the block vote - against the wishes of the Labour leadership.

He wants instead a process where disputes are settled over a year in a closed policy forum without the need for a conference vote.

The unions see it as a deliberately provocative ploy to remove the last vestiges of their influence over policy-making.

Neither side is willing to back down and attempts to broker a deal by Dave Prentis, the leader of Unison, have made little headway.

The prospect of what's currently a private row becoming a public bust-up looks increasingly likely.

For all the divisions, though, Mr Brown got a tepid - rather than frosty - welcome in Brighton.


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