BRIGHTON, England (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday will promise to clean up British politics, get tough on crime and heal the economy in a blizzard of policy moves aimed at avoiding a crushing election defeat next year.
Polls point to a big win for the opposition Conservatives -- which would be the first change of government in Britain since 1997 -- and there appears little Brown can do or say to reverse his party’s fortunes.
Public opinion of the 58-year-old Scot, who took over as prime minister from Tony Blair in 2007, has crumbled in the last year following a scandal over politicians’ expenses, soaring unemployment and a perception that he is a ditherer.
Brown will address his ruling Labour party at their annual conference in the southern English city of Brighton on Tuesday hoping to change that.
Aides said he will emphasise how his decisions have taken the sting out of the recession and put Britain on track to economic recovery. He also plans tough laws on bankers’ bonuses and binding commitments to cut the record budget deficit.
He will try to assuage voter anger over the expenses scandal that damaged all the main political parties and will reject opposition charges that society is falling apart with measures to tackle youth crime and binge drinking.
“We will not stand by and see the lives of the lawful majority disrupted by the behaviour of the lawless minority,” Brown will say, according to extracts from his speech.
“The decent, hard-working majority are getting ever more angry -- rightly so -- with the minority who will talk about their rights but never accept their responsibilities.”
The run-up to the crucial party conference season could not have gone worse for Brown after his trip to the G20 summit -- normally a stage on which he shines -- was soured by rumours that U.S. President Barack Obama had snubbed him.
Scenting blood, the British media turned to unsubstantiated claims his health was failing and polls showing the Conservatives were way out in front.
The atmosphere in Brighton, a seaside resort south of London, has been predictably subdued as many in the Labour party contemplate life out of government.
But business minister and ex-European Union trade commissioner Peter Mandelson on Monday sought to convince the party all is not lost.
“It was a speech that someone needed to make,” said Ruairi Tobin, a Labour activist from Swindon in western England. “We need to fight and I‘m not sure it is a case of going down fighting.”
Political analysts say the result of the election, which must be called by June 2010, is not a foregone conclusion, pointing to several outcomes ranging from a big Conservative win to the outside chance of a small Labour majority.
Wary of the largest government borrowing bill in history, financial markets are most afraid of a hung parliament which could hamper efforts to reduce a budget deficit expected to reach more than 12 percent of Gross Domestic Product this year.
Finance minister Alistair Darling said the government would introduce a law binding future administrations to cutting the budget deficit on an annual basis.
Labour, aware of public anger over bankers’ roles in the economic crisis, also plans to introduce laws to bring an end to excessive bonuses in the financial sector.
Additional reporting by Keith Weir; editing by Michael Roddy