Labour fights back as popularity plummets

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown will call today for urgent action to combat climate change at home and abroad as he tries to regain the political initiative for the Government.

His first big speech on the environment as Prime Minister comes amid growing disquiet over the direction of his premiership and Labour's poor performance in the polls.

Labour strategists are dismayed by the collapse in the party's fortunes since Mr Brown's decision last month not to call a general election. They argue that the only response is for the Prime Minister to "get on with the job" both domestically and internationally.

Their worries were underlined by an opinion poll yesterday that showed his personal popularity plummeting. Mr Brown's net approval rating in the YouGov survey for The Sunday Times has fallen from a high of plus 48 percentage points in the summer to plus 30 points last month and minus 10 points today. It also found the Tories doubling their lead over Labour from three points last month to six points.

In his speech today, Mr Brown will insist that the need to develop clean energy presents Britain with as big an opportunity as the Industrial Revolution did during the 19th century.

He will argue that building a low-carbon economy could help this country to become a world leader in new technologies and industries and create large numbers of new jobs.

And the Prime Minister will say that Britain and other developed countries must take the lead by drawing up a timetable for action, starting at the UN conference in Bali next month.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, was forced to deny a rift had developed between him and the Prime Minister last week after Downing Street forced him to rewrite a key passage of a speech on Europe.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, Mr Miliband stressed there was "full co-operation right across departments" and dismissed recent reports of tensions as "process stories".

"I am proud of the work I am doing in the Foreign Office to take forward a European agenda is worked through very closely with other departments," he said. "I am working very closely with the Prime Minister. He and I published a pamphlet on our vision of how Europe can go forward in the years ahead."

John Denham, the Skills Secretary, also denied claims that Mr Brown was interfering in the everyday business of Whitehall departments.

He told Sky News: "I work with Gordon. I can say I have not been bullied. We work very well. We work very well with the Downing Street team. Nor am I getting the accusations of No 10 diving in, interfering, micro-managing policy, which I have to say was heard of in the past."

In an interview to be broadcast last night, Tony Blair admitted that "disagreements or tensions" arose with Mr Brown during his time in Downing Street. But he said his government had been "infinitely stronger" as a result of his successor's performance as chancellor.

In the interview for BBC1's The Blair Years, he said there was no deal over the timing of his departure in June. "When you're prime minister,... you're aware that other people may want to succeed you.

"And I always used to say to people, 'it's not an ignoble ambition'. I mean, why shouldn't he want to be prime minister?"

The programme said tensions were triggered by Mr Blair's attempts to reform the public health and education services.

It also claimed that Mr Blair made the biggest spending announcement of his time as prime minister – on health spending in early 2000 – without consulting his chancellor.

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