Brown: No change on pensions and fuel

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Indy Politics

Under-pressure Chancellor Gordon Brown has stood firm over demands to raise pensions and cut fuel tax, telling the Labour party conference: "We will not return to the old short-termism."

Under-pressure Chancellor Gordon Brown has stood firm over demands to raise pensions and cut fuel tax, telling the Labour party conference: "We will not return to the old short-termism."

He refused to buckle to concerns within Labour, and anger from protestors, that he must soften his hard-line stance if Labour is to win the next Election.

In an uncompromising keynote speech in Brighton, he said: "There will be no sudden lurches in tax or spending policy. There will be no irresponsible pre-election spree.

"There will be no relaxing of our fiscal rules. We will not put the hard-won Labour economic stability at risk.

"No return to short-termism. No return to Tory boom and bust."

On pensions, Mr Brown acknowledged that the Government had "much more to do" but he again defended the approach of targeting the poorest rather than giving an across-the-board rise.

He said: "It is a progressive principle that we should do more for those who have the greatest needs. So if we are to plan for the future, our priority cannot be that the wealthiest get exactly the same as the neediest.

"A flat rate increase will not do enough to help pensioners on modest incomes and do nothing to diminish growing inequalities but instead reinforce them."

Mr Brown also said inflation cuts, employment boosts and the tackling of "long term neglect" in investment had been due to firm policies.

And he added: "These things did not just happen. The priorities and tough decisions of your Labour Government made them happen.

"It's precisely because we have taken the time and trouble to build the long term foundations for success.

"It's precisely because, with your support, we have resisted short-term lurches in policy that we can today steer a course of stability at a time of uncertainty in the world economy, without putting growth at risk."

He pledged there would be no change either in the party's policy on the Euro - "support in principle for the single currency, in practice the five tests that have to be met".

Earlier, Pensions Minister Jeff Rooker was booed and jeered by pensioners as he arrived at a rally of campaigners demanding the restoration of the link between earnings and benefits.

Mr Rooker ran the gauntlet of more than 300 senior citizens packed into a fringe meeting at Labour's conference, just two hours before Mr Brown's speech to delegates.

In contrast to Mr Rooker's reception, pensioners' champion, former Transport Union leader Jack Jones and fellow campaigners veteran Labour MP Tony Benn and agony aunt Claire Rayner received rousing welcomes.

Actress Barbara Windsor had been due to address the meeting but sent her apologies as she was working.

Because of the crush of supporters, the meeting began early before ex-Labour Cabinet minister and scourge of the Government on the issue, Barbara Castle had arrived.

When she did, she too was greeted with enthusiastic cheers.

Claire Rayner opened the meeting saying: "I have been drawing my pension for the last four years and I want to talk about health.

"I grew up in the shadow of the workhouse, people were always scared of being sick and old."

She went on: "At present, the elderly sick get a very dirty deal."

And attacking the Government she said that with one-in-four voters drawing their pension, senior citizens represented "the biggest focused group there is".

Mr Rooker, in shirt sleeves, told the meeting he hadn't had to come to listen to its concerns but he wanted to work with the National Pensioners Convention which had organised the rally.

There were boisterous scenes outside the hotel function room where the meeting was being held, as stewards had to keep dozens of pensioners keen to join their colleagues outside for safety reasons.