Brown's vision: A British one-party state

GORDON Brown yesterday began his premiership in earnest, revealing a design to elevate himself above party politics to the head of a virtual one-party state, a unifying figure pledged to bind together and lead the British people.

In a purple tie and against a blue backdrop shorn of any Labour insignia, the Prime Minister made no mention of opposition parties and precious few references to his own. But "Britain" and "British" were there, some 74 times in all.

In a studied contrast with the soaring oratory and intellectual flights of Tony Blair, Mr Brown offered neither brilliance nor ideology. The response from the Labour conference in Bournemouth was thoughtful not rapturous, respectful not adulatory.

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Instead of a grand narrative, he offered pragmatism and some carefully selected policy pledges, each precision-guided to reach those sections of the electorate he needs to forge a new national consensus, a shared agreement that Mr Brown should be and remain the nation's leader.

And that nation, as ever, is Britain, an identity the Prime Minister again made clear he believes must come before and above those of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

Building on his efforts to woo Conservatives as defectors, advisers and voters, Mr Brown revealed his ultimate objective - to make himself a benign father of the nation, "not just occupying but shaping and expanding the centre ground".

David Cameron, the Tory leader, called the speech "uninspiring" and challenged Mr Brown to call the early election Labour aides have whispered about since the summer.

But the Prime Minister made no mention of the next general election, not even a hint about its timing. Mr Brown's ambitions went higher than that.

If Mr Blair's single big idea was to present all politics as a tension between the past and the future, Mr Brown's single theme is more simple still. Gordon Brown's big idea is Gordon Brown.

"L'tat, c'est moi," Louis XIV said. "I am the state."

For Mr Brown, the message is: "I am the country."

Time and again, he praised "the British people" for their strength, their courage, their fortitude. His chosen examples of those virtues were, of course, events during which he himself has shone: terrorist attacks on Glasgow and London, foot-and-mouth, financial turmoil. "Our response was calm and measured. We simply got on with the job," he said, blurring the line between "I" and "We". "Britain has been tested and not found wanting. This is who we are."

In an effective bit of populist stage-management that proves the age of spin is far from over, Mr Brown even conjured up a figure from the front row who embodied all the virtues he attributed to the British people and himself. John Smeaton, the Glasgow airport worker whose kick to a terrorist's flaming groin propelled him to international fame, got a standing ovation as Mr Brown sought to ram home his point with equal force.

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"John later told me it was instinctive; he was doing what was right," Mr Brown recalled, openly inviting comparisons between the Prime Minister and the baggage handler.

The point was not subtly made. Mr Brown lionised farm officials and vets for cancelling their holidays to tackle the foot-and-mouth outbreak. No-one in the conference centre needed reminding that the Prime Minister had scrapped his own summer break for the same reason.

The focus was firmly, even stubbornly, domestic: Iraq and Afghanistan were covered in barely a sentence. The men and women who fight and die there in Britain's name got even less attention and precious little praise. "In Iraq and Afghanistan ... we will do everything to ensure the security of our dedicated armed forces," was all their Prime Minister said of them.

Likewise, there was only a passing reference to Britain's relationship with the United States, the rock on which Mr Blair's ship was broken. Nor did Mr Brown say much about the European Union reform treaty whose ratification still threatens to torment his government.

Before yesterday, even some of the Prime Minister's admirers had been wondering what he was all about, what he planned to do with all the power and might he has accumulated. In truth, he didn't do much to answer those questions.

He touched on almost every aspect of government policy, lingering longest on health ("my priority") and education ("my passion"). There were promises crafted to appeal to left wingers: elections to the House of Lords, more "responsibilities" for big firms. But each was balanced by a gift for the right: a pledge to deport foreigners caught with guns or drugs, new stop-and-search powers for English police.

In an hour-long speech, Mr Brown spoke of Britain, Britishness and Britons more than 70 times, drawing criticism last night from the Scottish Nationalists, who suggested the Fife-born Prime Minister was abandoning his roots. They had a point, but only about Mr Brown's delivery: his studious, leaden attempts to Anglicise his accent led him into some awful slips. Maths became "marths". Breakfast became "brake-fast". He pronounced "Bourn-mouth" like some foreign province.

But if the vocabulary of this speech was British and English, the heart was still Scots.

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Tracing his journey from Kirkcaldy's schools to Edinburgh University, he recalled the schoolmates who did not accompany him, not for want of talent but for lack of money and aspiration. "The reason I am here - the real reason I am here - is that I want their children and their grandchildren, whom I also represent, to have all the chances that were not available to my school friends when we were growing up," he declared.

And the well-spring of that desire to help? The Church of Scotland, and the sermons of his father, the minister. "I don't recall all the sermons my father preached Sunday after Sunday. But I will never forget these words he left me with, 'We must be givers as well as getters'. The values I was brought up with are not just what I learned; they are part of the fabric of the life I have led."

Then, for the first time anyone in the hall could remember, a Prime Minister quoted the Bible to a party conference. "Suffer the little children to come unto me," he said, adding: "No Bible I have ever read says, 'Bring just some of the children'."

In closing, he spoke about the childhood accident on a rugby pitch that took the sight in one eye and almost the other, too. Perhaps the intention was to suggest he was reconciled to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

But, taken in the round, this was a speech intended to eliminate any such doubts from British politics, leaving us with only one option, one choice: Gordon Brown.

Old and new policies at a glance as PM sets out his leadership stall

ALTHOUGH he has not called a general election, Gordon Brown used his first speech to conference as Prime Minister to unveil new policy pledges, while reaffirming others.

Many - such as those on health and education - will apply only south of the Border, but he also trumpeted existing policies such as the extension of paid maternity rights and an Australian-style points system for would-be immigrants. The policy pledges included:


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Keen to point out his own credentials as a father, Mr Brown hinted that his pre-Budget report would outline further measures to abolish child poverty. He reannounced the Child Support Agency's "naming and shaming" policy, adding: "We will insist on new powers to name absent fathers on birth certificates and [for them] to pay their share."

He cautiously signalled that he would extend paid maternity leave from nine months to 12.


"I can reaffirm our commitment to restore the link between pensions and earnings," Mr Brown said, but gave no time-frame for this.


He reannounced his plans to introduce an Australian-style points system, but perhaps more interesting was his tone:

"Any newcomer to Britain who is caught selling drugs or using guns will be thrown out."


Largely reaffirming previous pledges to give parliament the final say over peace and war, Mr Brown's main policy announcement was that Labour would include a promise to introduce the "principle of elections" for the second chamber. When and in what form was not mentioned.


Carbon emission limits were too modest and could be made even tougher, Mr Brown said. Controversially, he also appeared to commit Britain to a new generation of nuclear power plants.

He promised to make Britain a "world leader in the environment and energy, from nuclear to renewables" - perhaps forgetting that the government ended up in the High Court last time it pre-empted its consultation on energy policy.


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New crime announcements included hand-held weapon detectors to clamp down on imports of illegal weapons, while drug dealers would have their assets confiscated.

Police south of the Border will also be issued with 1,000 handheld computers by next April, which will allow them to issue on-the-spot fines and warnings.


An extra 15 billion of public money will go into financing cancer research. Screening for breast cancer would be extended by six years, while screening for colon cancer would be extended up the age scale into the 70s. Mr Brown reiterated his pledge of more-flexible hours for GPs.


While Mr Brown certainly put the emphasis on education, there were no details of extra spending commitments or where this would come from. He repackaged existing policy to highlight that "in just one decade, we are doing what no government has ever done: moving the right to education from 11 years' free education to 15 years". He also announced: "Because I want every child to be a reader, every child to be able to count, we have decided that one-to-one tuition will be there in our schools ... for 300,000 children in English and 300,000 children in Maths."

Every pupil will also get a personal tutor to help them throughout their secondary school career - but this would start with just 600,000 students in England. Interestingly, he only mentioned Tony Blair's favoured academies in passing.


MARTIN O'Neill, former MP and close associate of Gordon Brown, has admitted that adjusting to his new life in the Lords has been a bit of a struggle. After an appearance at a mundane legislative session in the grand Moses Room, he was summoned by Lord Grocott, the chief whip. Wondering what he had done wrong, Lord O'Neill was finally put out of his misery. "You took your jacket off without asking the permission of the chair." One can only hope that he was wearing a shirt as sophisticated as the Ralph Lauren candy-stripe number he sported in Bournemouth yesterday.

VETERAN bombast George Foulkes - the peer and MSP - has earned the ire of his colleagues for recent outspoken comments. Despite calls for him to be consigned to the Lords where he can inflict as "little damage as possible", senior Labour MSPs have stopped short of asking him to quit Holyrood. "We can't afford a by-election," they bemoan, displaying gross ignorance of the fact that, as a list MSP, Lord Foulkes's place would simply go to the next candidate.

HARRIET "Posh" Harman (or Harperson, the queen of PC) promised to give a riveting anecdote at Labour's Scottish night. As she rose to speak, the deputy leader said she was reminded of an anecdote by Jim Sheridan MP on the mining industry. Staring at the sea of 150-plus faces, she said, "Er, I've forgotten it." She was left with a face redder than Jimmy Reid.