Brown distances himself from PM's 'bridge to the US' policy

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown challenged Tony Blair last night over the Prime Minister's vision of Britain acting as a bridge between Europe and America.

The Chancellor also distanced himself from Mr Blair's attempts to rebrand the country as "Cool Britannia'" after Labour's 1997 election victory and called for history to be made a compulsory subject for all secondary school pupils.

In a wide-ranging interview discussing education policy, constitutional reform and multiculturalism, Mr Brown appeared to take the first step in setting out his personal agenda for a future leadership contest.

He reserved his most provocative remarks for the Prime Minister's repeated calls, particularly during the build-up to the Iraq war, for Britain to act as a bridge across the Atlantic.

The Chancellor told BBC2's Newsnight last night that Britain had to play a more positive role in world affairs, based on the country's historic values, rather than simply act as a link between power blocs. "We're more than a bridge between Europe and the United States," he said.

"It's not enough if I were to say that all we were were some mechanical device bringing Europe and America together.

"The definition of a bridge is it links two different points and if all you do is link them together then you're certainly performing a good diplomatic role. But we stand for more than simply bringing people together. We have values of our own."

Mr Brown said promoting Britishness and having "an idea of what your destiny as a nation is" would be a main theme of his Budget tomorrow.

Asked what he thought of the "Cool Britannia" image of the late 1990s, he said: "What I think is that none of these things, from Harold Macmillan to Harold Wilson to Margaret Thatcher to "Cool Britannia", sort of accurately sum up the richness and the complexity of what it is to be British."

The Chancellor argued that the national curriculum had not put enough emphasis on Britain's past, calling for teaching of history to be compulsory until the age of 16.

"I do think people should be encouraged to learn history all the years they're at school. And I do think in colleges, history, and the teaching of history is going to be more important in the years to come, and I think, in a world of global change, issues of national identity become incredibly important."

He said English lessons should be compulsory for those for those on jobseeker's allowance and hinted at his support for further constitutional change, including reform of the House of Lords.

The Chancellor, who laughed off suggestions he was setting out "Brownism", said Britons should celebrate their past and their values, rather than feeling guilty about the legacy of empire.

"I think the days of Britain having to apologise for our history are over," he said. "I think we should move forward. I think we should celebrate much of our past rather than apologise for it and we should talk, rightly so, about British values."

In a speech to a London conference today, Mr Brown will argue that Britain's continued economic strength depends upon investment in technology and skills.

He will tell the conference: "Facing the expansion of global competition and the explosive nature of technological change, and with developing countries on course to produce half the world's manufacturing exports, no country or continent can take its future prosperity for granted.

"Countries and continents will rise and fall depending upon their ability to adapt to change."