Labour seeks late revival with new laws

LONDON Tue Nov 17, 2009 3:16pm GMT

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown makes a foreign policy speech at the Guildhall during the Lord Mayor's Banquet in the City of London November 16, 2009. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown makes a foreign policy speech at the Guildhall during the Lord Mayor's Banquet in the City of London November 16, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

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LONDON (Reuters) - The Labour Party will on Wednesday propose a series of wide-ranging new laws to try to derail a resurgent Conservative party and head off an expected election defeat in 2010.

The longest recession on record, a scandal over the misuse of public money to fund politicians' expenses and disquiet over the Afghanistan war have made defeat for Prime Minister Gordon Brown seem all but inevitable in May or June next year.

But party officials are hopeful their programme for the last few months of parliament will reassure voters that Labour still has the energy and ideas to govern after 12 years in power. They also hope it will smoke out more of David Cameron's Conservatives own policy intentions.

The economy and financial regulation play a big part in the new proposals, with a suggested law enshrining pledges to cut debt, tougher rules for bankers' pay and more powers for both consumers and the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

Political and market commentators say the Conservatives, while outlining some policies, have yet to lay out a detailed enough vision for government, even though opinion polls suggest the party is on track for a big election victory.

An ICM poll for the Guardian on Tuesday showed Labour's support had increased by 2 points to 29 percent, but that was still some 13 points behind the Conservatives.

"It's going to be a political Queen's speech," a government source told Reuters. The Queen announces the government's legislative timetable at the annual state opening of parliament on Wednesday.

"We're drawing the dividing lines but we're also making clear a much wider point -- we're deliberately striking an optimistic tone versus the pessimism of David Cameron and his age of austerity," the source said.

CUTS TO COME

Much of the political debate this year has focussed on how best to deal with a ballooning budget deficit -- set to reach more than 12 percent of gross domestic product this year because of the recession and extensive, costly support measures.

Labour has said it will halve the deficit in four years but the Conservatives say they want to move quicker than that, warning voters of an austere few years ahead to get the pain out of the way quickly and restore investor confidence in Britain.

On Tuesday, Cameron accused Labour of planning "the most divisive, short-termist, shamelessly self-serving Queen's Speech in living memory."

"We are mired in the deepest and longest recession since the Second World War, with deep social problems and a political system that is held in contempt," he said in an article in the Times.

"The state opening of parliament tomorrow ought to be about radical ideas to deal with this triple crisis."

Labour's legislative plans will build on pledges made at the party's annual conference in September.

Proposals for a stronger FSA, part of the tripartite group overseeing the financial system with the Bank of England and Treasury, runs contradictory to Conservative plans to abolish the watchdog and give more oversight powers to the central bank.

Officials say the government still believes a tripartite arrangement is the best way to manage the financial sector, despite criticism of the framework throughout the credit crisis -- which saw several major banks needing state help to survive.

Other proposals include a plan for national care service for the elderly, international aid pledges and education guarantees in a broad package that some doubt will be able to get through parliament in its entirety before the election.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)

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