Brown seeks salvation in centre ground

BRIGHTON, England Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:53am BST

1 of 9. Prime Minister Gordon Brown gestures as he delivers his speech at the Labour Party Conference, in Brighton September 29, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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BRIGHTON, England (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown, hoping to prevent defeat in an election next year, appealed on Tuesday to disaffected middle-class voters worn down by recession and looking for a change of government.

In a speech to his Labour Party conference, he said the government would get tough both on the bonus culture at banks and youngsters causing trouble in city centres with a return to the virtues of "fairness and responsibility."

"Call them middle-class values, call them traditional working class values, call them family values, call them all of these; these are the values of the mainstream majority," he said.

His speech, the last to conference before an election expected next May, was portrayed as an attempt to relaunch the Labour Party which in 12 years in power presided over a booming economy before it crashed in the global financial crisis.

But analysts were dubious about whether Brown's speech in the English seaside resort of Brighton could win back sceptical voters who are looking to the Conservative party to bring change.

"A couple of speeches at the seaside on a particularly sunny autumn day cannot disguise the permafrost of long-term opinion polls," Tony Travers, politics professor at the London School of Economics, said.

Brown also offered Britons a referendum on reforming their first-past-the-post electoral reform -- a carrot to woo the smaller Liberal Democrats if there is a hung parliament in the election.

RUNNING THIRD

Brown's speech, televised live, sought to win back disaffected middle class voters who turned to Labour under Tony Blair, the former prime minister who won three elections before stepping aside in 2007.

Brown said Labour had been right to pump billions of pounds into the economy to combat the worst recession since World War Two and said he would make a legally binding commitment to cut the record budget deficit in half over the next four years.

Voters would be given the chance to oust lawmakers who broke rules on corruption, following a scandal this year over their lavish expense claims.

Polls point to a big win for the Conservatives -- which would be the first change of government in Britain since 1997 -- and Brown has appeared unable to revive his party.

The latest opinion poll, released before the speech, put Labour down in third place for the first time since 1982, pollster Ipsos Mori said.

The survey shows the main Conservative opposition party on 36 percent, the left-leaning Liberal Democrats on 25 percent and Labour on 24 percent.

Conservative Party Chairman Eric Pickles said Brown had failed to admit the government had run out of money.

"This was a speech with no vision and no argument - just a long shopping list with no price tag," he said.

The Liberal Democrats called the announcements "a hotchpotch of the ineffective and the ill-thought through, rehashed press releases, copied ideas and humiliating U-turns."

YOUTH AND EXPERIENCE

The speech went down well with party activists and union leaders at the conference.

"He said what needed to be said really. He's made a very clear break between what Labour has done over the economy compared with the Conservatives," said Mark Player, a Labour Party member from Chelmsford in eastern England.

Political analysts highlighted the attacks on Conservative leader David Cameron, 42, who has never held high office.

"It is inexperience versus financial gravitas. They are going for Cameron in quite a big way, it's almost getting personal ... but I think he just about got away with it," said Jonathan Tonge, head of politics at Liverpool University.

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