Brown to lead 'as a New Labour PM'

Key points

• Chancellor to uphold New Labour agenda in key conference speech

• Brown likely to be unopposed to succeed Tony Blair as Labour leader

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• Aides claim Brown backs Blairite reforms he was believed to oppose

Key quote

"Our task now is the renewal of New Labour, the creation of a progressive consensus, essential for the next stage of the renewal of Britain" - Gordon Brown, expected extract from conference speech

Story in full GORDON Brown will today declare that he will lead Britain as a New Labour Prime Minister, setting himself on a collision course with trade unions and the old left with a personal manifesto continuing Tony Blair's programme of reform.

In what the Chancellor describes as his vision for Britain for the next decade, Mr Brown will symbolically embrace the Blairite agenda he has often appeared to resist, telling the Labour conference the party "must and will be New Labour."

Mr Brown's deliberate vow to uphold Mr Blair's policies is a calculated attempt to appeal to former Tory voters in the centre-ground who worry that the Chancellor will try to take Labour back to the left when he assumes power in the next two years.

That transfer of power is now all but inevitable, with even the most Blairite ministers at the Labour conference in Brighton yesterday openly discussing an amicable, phased handover which would see Mr Brown appointed unopposed.

David Blunkett, the Work and Pensions Secretary, and Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, once seen as potential challengers to Mr Brown's succession, yesterday joined Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, in ruling themselves out.

Only John Reid, the Defence Secretary, broke the united front, yesterday pointedly refusing to rule out a challenge, though few Labour MPs believe he could ever be a credible rival to the Chancellor.

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Bolstered by the newfound certainty that the top job will be his, Mr Brown will today identify his personal policy priorities "over the next decade".

Among those challenges are more help for parents balancing work and family, help for women seeking equality at work, more opportunities for young people and pensioners, and a drive to "empower" local communities in "a new 21st-century citizenship".

His message, in the words of one of his aides, is that despite all of Mr Blair's electoral successes, "there is a long way still to go".

"Our task now is the renewal of New Labour, the creation of a progressive consensus, essential for the next stage of the renewal of Britain," Mr Brown will say.

The use of the phrase "New Labour" is significant and provocative. In the past, Mr Brown has avoided the name, allowing supporters to believe he was offering a more traditional alternative to the Blairite programme.

Aides to the Chancellor insisted last night that he is in fact a committed supporter of controversial Blairite policies such as foundation hospitals and city academies, and those projects will not be undone when Mr Brown reaches No 10.

Mr Brown's supporters are determined that their man will not lead a short-lived "fag-end" government in Mr Blair's wake, and are already looking beyond the next general election to the poll that will follow.

Two more election victories would break every record in British politics, and mean 20 years of consecutive Labour government.

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But Mr Brown's friends accept that Labour will only remain in office by continuing to hold on to the centrist voters Mr Blair first wooed by creating New Labour before the 1997 election.

With that in mind, Mr Brown will today flirt with the legacy of Margaret Thatcher by promising to deliver a "a home-owning, share-owning, asset-owning, wealth-owning democracy".

While Mr Brown may be looking to keep Middle England happy, his former supporters on the left are growing increasingly angry.

The unions are backing several motions at this week's conference that will almost certainly see the leadership defeated on issues such as services reform and employment rights. But Mr Brown's supporters say he will not give any ground to the rebels who seek to reverse changes made by this Labour government and its Tory predecessor.

Derek Simpson, the leader of the Amicus union, yesterday warned that upholding Mr Blair's reform agenda could mean that "Labour could lose the next election". Mr Brown, Mr Simpson said, could not take union support for granted, since labour groups were interested in "policies, not personalities".

But those warnings are increasingly confined to the old left and the trade union movement, with Labour MPs and ministers almost unanimous in their view that Mr Brown is their next leader. In recent days, Blairite ministers have queued up to hail Mr Brown as the next Labour leader, part of a Downing Street-sanctioned coronation for the Chancellor, authorised after Mr Brown made clear he would respect Mr Blair's policies.

Tessa Jowell, perhaps the ultimate Blairite, began the charge, using a pre-recorded GMTV interview broadcast yesterday to call for Mr Brown to succeed without a challenge.

Later in the day, Mr Blunkett told ITV1's Dimbleby programme: "The party and the trade union movement will decide at the time. But there doesn't seem to be at this moment any obvious alternative candidate, and in those circumstances everybody can relax."

And Mr Hain, who has harboured ambitions of taking the party leadership, told Sky News: "Gordon is so far out in front that of course I would be happy to see him as Prime Minister."