Brown fires starting gun in race for Downing St

Brown rallies wounded party with list of New Labour successes / Policy blitz defines issues over which election will be fought

Gordon Brown bolstered his position yesterday by unveiling a list of policy announcements aimed at securing Labour a fourth term by winning back voters in Middle England who have deserted the party.

In a fighting speech to the Labour conference, the Prime Minister positioned Labour as the party of the "mainstream majority" and the "squeezed middle" against a Conservative Party which he claimed stood for the "privileged few".

In a response to the MPs' expenses scandal, he promised a landmark referendum on scrapping Britain's first-past-the-post system soon after the general election. He announced a personal U-turn by coming out in favour of the alternative vote (AV) system, used in Australia, in which people rank candidates in order of preference. The bottom one drops out, with second preferences redistributed until one candidate enjoys more than 50 per cent support. Although not a proportional system, it would be an historic change if introduced in Britain.

He also announced that voters would be allowed to trigger a by-election when an MP is guilty of gross financial misconduct or corruption. A certain proportion of voters would have to demand such a "recall ballot" in a petition.

There was a surprise ambitious promise to provide free care at home for 350,000 elderly people at a cost of £400m; a pledge to maintain the schools budget and child benefit and to enshrine into law Labour's commitments to raise spending on overseas aid. But there were few examples of the spending cuts needed to pay for them.

Mr Brown embraced the Blairite agenda on antisocial behaviour by announcing that 16- and 17-year-old mothers would be placed in a supervised hostel rather than a council flat; "tough love" for Britain's 500,000 problem families, he said. Councils would also be given the power to ban 24-hour drinking throughout their area and neighbourhood police would begin intensive action against bad behaviour in the next few months.

The policy-rich, hour-long speech was designed to convince voters that Labour has not run out of steam after 12 years in power. It delighted Labour delegates and silenced the speculation that he could be ousted before the general election – for now. However, some ministers believe the question will resurface in December if Labour fails to close the Tories' big opinion poll lead by then.

In effect, Mr Brown fired the starting gun for a long election campaign likely to last until next April or May by repeatedly mapping out the choice between Labour and the Tories. Insisting that he came from "an ordinary family in an ordinary town", he did not mention David Cameron by name but implied that he did not. He admitted some flaws and mistakes but his message was that if the voters decided to reject him and take a chance on the Tories, that would not be "without consequence". "The election to come will not be about my future – it's about your future," he said. "Your job. Your home. Your children's school. Your hospital. Your community. It is about the future of your country."

Drawing what he hopes will be the crucial election dividing line, Mr Brown said: "There are only two options on tax and spending – and only one of them benefits Britain's hard-working majority. One is reducing the deficit by cutting frontline services – and that is the Conservative approach. The other is getting the deficit down while maintaining and indeed improving frontline public services – the Labour approach."

Warning that Conservative plans to cut inheritance tax would leave even less for frontline services, he said: "These are not cuts they [the Tories] would make because they have to – these are spending cuts they are making because they want to. It is not inevitable – it is the change they choose."

The Prime Minister also rehearsed his election lines by claiming the Tories "got the economic call of the century" wrong in the past year. The crisis had discredited their pro-market philosophy, he argued.

He questioned Mr Cameron's claim to have changed his party, arguing that he could not deliver change for the country.

His crackdown on antisocial behaviour drew wry smiles from some Blairites, who recalled that as Chancellor he often opposed Tony Blair's measures to combat it. One former cabinet minister said: "This is a very late conversion. He obstructed Tony at every turn. He wouldn't give the Home Office the money for it. He wanted us to keep quiet about crime, saying that talking about it would increase people's fear of it."

Missing from the speech was a formal announcement that Mr Brown would take part in a series of televised debates with Mr Cameron and the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg – the first at a British election. The Prime Minister is expected to agree but is believed to have decided not to announce it yesterday as it would have overshadowed his policy commitments.

Some ministers are urging Mr Brown to declare his hand and Mr Cameron said: "I cannot believe that the Prime Minister is still sitting on the fence. I can't work out this morning whether he's dithering or bottling, I expect it's a combination of both. But come on Gordon, get off the fence, agree to the debate, bring it on."

Eric Pickles, the Tory chairman, said: "This was a speech with no vision and no argument – just a long shopping list with no price tag. Gordon Brown continues to treat people like fools. He didn't acknowledge the mistakes he has made or that his Government has run out of money.

"He talked about change and a new age, but this speech was full of the same old political attacks and was firmly stuck in the past."

The Independent's expert panel gives its view

Lance Price

Former Labour Director of Communications

Gordon Brown's speech showed that, in policy terms, New Labour still understands where the centre of political gravity is in this country. My reservation is that he still hasn't found the language to reach out beyond the party, who loved the speech, to people at home to persuade them to look at him afresh and the party afresh.

Judi James

Body language specialist

There was real pace of movement. It was a high-energy performance that said, "I'm up for the fight." It was also the most natural smiling I have seen him do, as he threw in some genuine humour. But I did not like the fact that Sarah came on at the start. It may not do him damage, but in the long run he has got to be able to look like he is standing on his own two feet. He must not look like he is hiding behind Sarah's skirt, or Peter Mandelson's trouser-leg.

Lynne Franks

PR Consultant

Sarah's introduction was brilliant and Gordon started well. He looked powerful, confident and energetic and did not seem like a man down and finished. For me it was great to hear him supporting Harriet Harman early on and back her Equality Bill. But at times, his claims, such as tackling cancer, seemed over the top, and on issues such as pensions and free childcare, the trust question remained. I was left thinking, why haven't these things happened already?

John Curtice

Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University

The Prime Minister aimed for the right targets – to remind voters of Labour's past achievements, to suggest he is on the side of the "mainstream majority", and, above all, to give an idea of the better future he hopes to deliver. But it is not clear the whole was more than the sum of the headline grabbing parts, voters may still be unclear about the shape of the fairer, more responsible Britain Mr Brown says he wants.

Robert Bean

Branding analyst

Despite a typically tough, barnstorming flurry of policy presentation, the Brown brand hasn't really moved on. His reputation of "all substance and no style" has been borne true with this speech. And whilst the speech contains plenty of substance, it's questionable if the voting public will buy the brand next year. It's sadly too little, too late. And there's a danger that he could re-write his legacy as "not enough substance, with definitely no style".

Neil Sherlock

Former speechwriter to Paddy Ashdown

The speech started well and was brilliantly set up by Sarah Brown. It certainly did play well in the hall, not least the anger and passion shown. The economy message would have been stronger if it had been more personalised to what people are experiencing. There were some new policies – but did they weave a clear theme? The key question is: was it powerful enough? Was it personal enough to give Labour a chance to get the choice message across?

Andrew Hawkins

Chief Executive of ComRes polling

Having made a strong start, the rest of his speech lacked spark and impact. But at least we know the campaign narrative: this election is different because of the new economic climate. Labour will say the Conservatives cannot be trusted on the economy because they have too much faith in the markets and showed poor judgement in their response to the financial crisis. This is a powerful argument because it exposes the Conservatives' weakest flank. Will it be enough to turn around the poll ratings? No, especially if David Cameron gets a bounce of his own next week.

Buzz words

Mainstream majority: 5

Privileged few: 3

Our choice: 4

Wrong: 4

I [Gordon Brown]: 51

Tony Blair: 1

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'