Brown stakes claim to Labour leadership

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Gordon Brown staked his claim to the Labour leadership last night in the clearest terms since Tony Blair said he would not stand for a fourth term. The Chancellor's remarks will fuel speculation that Mr Blair could be forced out before the end of a third term.

Gordon Brown staked his claim to the Labour leadership last night in the clearest terms since Tony Blair said he would not stand for a fourth term. The Chancellor's remarks will fuel speculation that Mr Blair could be forced out before the end of a third term.

Asked whether he wanted the premiership, Mr Brown told the BBC: "I want to do what is right for the country. I believe that we do have a national mission. I believe as a country we need a stronger sense of our destiny as a nation. I do believe there are difficult long-term choices we have got to make, and I can help make them."

In the past the Chancellor has been careful to insist that there was no vacancy, but Mr Blair's announcement six weeks ago has given Mr Brown more freedom to stake out his position.

His remarks overshadowed a major speech by Alan Milburn, who was given a seat in the Cabinet by Mr Blair and handed Mr Brown's role in charge of the general election strategy.

Mr Milburn told a conference of the influential Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank that the redistribution of wealth through benefits was not enough. He said the Government would champion new policies for giving people a stake in society by creating a "an asset-owning democracy".

He did not name Mr Brown, but his remarks will be seen as a sideswipe at the Chancellor's concentration on tax credits which have extended means-tested benefits to those on low incomes.

Mr Milburn, echoing the language of Thatcherites in the 1980s, hinted that the manifesto would contain proposals to extend home ownership through more flexible mortgages offering lower interest rates for first-time buyers who have to borrow large sums, and by allowing tenants of social housing to gain equity shares in their own homes.

Mr Blair will reinforce the message tomorrow by unveiling plans to extend child care for all if Labour wins a third term in office.

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