Brown: The man who would be Prime Minister

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Indy Politics

In a powerful speech to Labour's conference in Brighton, the Chancellor outlined his personal credo by pledging to build "one moral community" in Britain when New Labour meets the challenges of the next decade. Although he praised Mr Blair, he made clear he was already preparing for the task of taking the helm. He said he would embark on a tour of Britain during the next year to see what economic, social and constitutional changes the country needed.

That was seen as a hint that Mr Brown would be looking for Mr Blair to set out a timetable for his departure at the next Labour conference in a year's time. Mr Blair has promised to quit before the next election but his allies want him to carry on until 2008. The Brownites, backed by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, want a handover in the spring or summer of 2007 so Mr Brown can establish himself before the election.

Mr Brown's barnstorming speech put more pressure on Mr Blair to convince his party and the country why he should stay on. Today, Mr Blair will use his speech to the conference to plead for more time to see through his public service reforms, arguing the Government needs to go further and faster but also hinting at a more conciliatory style in his remaining time as Prime Minister. Labour officials saidMr Blair had "more than a couple of years work" to do. In his speech, he will unveil a range of policies to be included in White Papers on education, health, welfare and antisocial behaviour before Christmas.

Mr Blair's aim will be to show his Government has not run out of steam and to nip in the bud the idea that he might be ready to quit in a year. "He wants longer than that," one ally said last night.

The Prime Minister is said to be irritated that the length of his tenure is overshadowing the conference. He is unhappy that Blairite ministers, including Charles Clarke and Tessa Jowell, have, in effect, anointed Mr Brown as his successor in recent days.

Although meant to be helpful, their remarks were not a co-ordinated plan by the Blair camp to buy Mr Blair more time by reassuring Mr Brown he would not be opposed by a Blairite candidate, as had been widely thought.

Mr Blair believes their comments ignited a new flurry of speculation about his leadership. But ministers said his criticism was unfair, since he had ensured the leadership question would repeatedly surface by announcing a year ago he would not lead Labour into a fourth election.

The Brown camp denied that their man's year-long tour was designed to set a timetable for Mr Blair. They said his visits would inform the government-wide spending review for which he and Mr Blair would write a joint prospectus next summer.

But Ed Balls, the Labour MP and one of Mr Brown's close allies, told a Brighton fringe meeting that Mr Blair's reputation would be damaged if there was not a smooth handover of power. He said: "When we talk about Tony Blair's standing and how he will be judged, the nature of that transition will, in an important respect, contribute to the way his legacy is seen."

Mr Brown's address, which ranged way beyond the economy, was peppered with references to individual cabinet ministers and was seen by |Labour delegates as more like the speech of a prime minister than Chancellor. He embraced New Labour modernisation agenda, arguing it needed to go further. "The renewal of New Labour will be as profound a challenge, as rigorous as a task and as great an achievement as the creation of New Labour," he said.

Mr Brown said Mr Blair deserved credit for leading Labour through difficult times - but added he also deserved it "for now asking us and challenging us as a party to begin to plan ahead."

He showed he had started to do that with his vision for a "great British society" based on "the ethics of duty, service and care" and a "shared national purpose."

He said: "Why I am in politics? I learnt from my parents not just to do my best and work hard but to treat everyone equally, to respect others, to tell the truth, to take responsibility ... When they said to me, that for every right there was a responsibility, that was not just words or slogans. What they meant was quite simple and straightforward - for me, my moral compass."