Chancellor to prioritise fight against poverty

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Gordon Brown will pledge today to bring in more "progressive" reforms than Tony Blair if he becomes Labour leader but will promise to keep the party firmly in the political centre ground.

In what is seen as the most important speech of his life, the Chancellor will stake his claim at the Labour conference to succeed Mr Blair by making clear he would offer change as well as continuity.

He will praise the Prime Minister's record since 1997 and endorse changes such as the personalisation of public services as he tries to deliver a unifying and forward-looking speech about the challenges facing Britain in the next 10 years.

Mr Brown will outline a moral vision of what he will call "the good society" and a "new Britain". His promise of "progressive" change will be seen as a signal that he would give greater priority to the fight against poverty. He will pledge to create "a new politics" and restore people's trust in politicians.

He will say: "While some see politics as spectacle I see politics as service because it is through service that you can make a difference and you can help people change their lives."

The Chancellor will say he wants to create a Britain where "we believe in something bigger than ourselves and where we grow stronger and more prosperous by working together."

He will add: "No longer the old Britain of them and us; no longer the old Britain of 'me too'-ism and 'no such thing as society'. This is the new Britain of we the people working for better communities together."

The Chancellor will tell the Manchester conference: "New Labour will never retreat but positively entrench our position in the centre ground - in the mainstream as the party of reform; New Labour renewed not just holding the centre ground but modernising it in a progressive way too.

"As a party and government we have climbed a huge mountain, but we must now climb many more and even more challenging mountains ahead.

"The next 10 years will be even more demanding, because the challenges are quite different, the programme for governing will be different, and as the tasks of government change, the way we govern must change too, not just new policies but a new politics too."

Mr Brown will say that New Labour's "renewal" must be built on "a flexible economy, reformed personalised services, public and private sectors not at odds but working together so that we can truly deliver opportunity and security not just for some but for all."

He will say that education should be Britain's new "national mission" so that it becomes "the success story" of the global economy.

Peter Mandelson last night issued a coded warning to Mr Brown that he could face disaster at the polls if he failed to take the entire party with him.

"Whoever succeeds Tony Blair, whoever he or she may be, they will have to succeed Tony in a way and by means that command respect and acceptance by the electorate as a whole," he told a fringe meeting.

The EU Trade Commissioner said Mr Blair should be given the freedom to choose the time of his departure and not be forced out by "old-style operators in the party who thrive in smoke-filled rooms and are best left there frankly".

In an interview yesterday, the Chancellor praised Mr Blair as a "great leader" and said it had been a "mistake" for 15 Labour MPs to send him a letter urging him to stand down. He said allegations that he plotted against the Prime Minister were "wrong".

Mr Brown told the BBC's Politics Show that he wanted to devolve power in the same way as he handed control of interest rates from the Treasury to the Bank of England in 1997. His ideas include an independent board to run the NHS.

The former home secretary, Charles Clarke, apologised for his notorious attack on Mr Brown, who he had accused of being a control freak who had psychological difficulties working as part of a team.

Mr Clarke told the fringe meeting : "People behaved - including myself - in ways that were probably not the best and most advised ways."

Brown's Britain

Public services An independent NHS board to take the day-to-day running of the health service out of the hands of ministers, who would set the budget and overall strategy. The model could be extended to other services.

Parliament Powers boosted, including a statutory right to approve military action. House of Lords reformed with at least half of peers elected.

Cabinet Mr Brown would end Mr Blair's informal, so-called "sofa government" and restore power to the full Cabinet.

Constitution As part of Mr Brown's drive for a "new politics", Britain could get its first written constitution, laying down the rights and responsibilities of all citizens and the roles of the monarchy, government, parliament and judiciary.

Poverty As part of his drive to forge a "progressive consensus", he would redouble Labour's efforts to abolish child poverty by 2020.

Local government Would hand more powers to councils to show he is committed to devolution.

Foreign policy Would maintain close links with US but would probably be less slavish than Mr Blair in support of President George Bush. He said yesterday he wanted "strong relationship with all world leaders, including the President of America".

Europe His approach would be "pro-European realism," striking a hard bargain on EU budget negotiations.