Labour is only party trusted with economy, says Brown

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Indy Politics

The Chancellor Gordon Brown today sought to install his stewardship of the economy as the cornerstone of Labour's forthcoming general election campaign.

In his keynote speech to Labour's annual conference in Brighton, Mr Brown argued that his record on delivering economic stability was the key to persuading voters to trust the Government across the board.

Mr Brown, whose traditional role in masterminding Labour's election campaign has been handed by Prime Minister Tony Blair to Alan Milburn, told delegates: "From being the party not trusted with the economy, this conference should be proud that Labour is today the only party trusted with the economy."

He added: "We will never be complacent about stability. We must show at all times we have the discipline and strength to take the tough long term fiscal and monetary decisions for Britain.

"Because, with the economy central to people's concerns at this next election as at every election, that is the way to entrench and retain the trust of the people on the economy and pay for the much needed reforms and investments in public services."

Mr Brown signalled his support for Ken Bigley, the Briton being held hostage in Iraq, saying the thoughts of the whole conference were with his family.

In what some commentators interpreted as a dig at Mr Milburn's new role, Mr Brown told delegates: "In our generation, I want us to build a shared national purpose, a British progressive consensus, much more than a set of individual policies announced by politicians but a set of beliefs that come to be shared by

the British people – that Britain can lead by example as the first country of the global age where prosperity and justice advance together.

"Our task therefore is not to consolidate the politics we inherited but by our words and deeds to transform people's view of what in our country is possible.

"To seek to win not just votes but hearts and minds to a shared national purpose far beyond the ranks of our party or any party."

And Mr Brown emphasised that while the British economy must be modernised, he envisaged a society rooted firmly in Labour values.

In an echo of his conference speech last year, in which his references to Labour values were widely seen as a snub to Mr Blair's New Labour creed, Mr Brown today told delegates: "When people ask whether in the face of this new global market in labour, capital and goods we can still ... hold fast to our vision of Britain, I say: in the face of these challenges, the future lies not in abandoning our vision of a Britain of opportunity for all but making it come alive for our time.

"Ours is a vision that works for Britain not in spite of our Labour values, but as I said last year, because of our Labour values."

Nevertheless, Mr Brown made clear that he backed the Government's agenda for making the public services more responsive to the needs of their users even if that meant harnessing the private sector.

He said: "If we are to meet the global economic challenge, skills must be matched by flexibility and there will be no room for the old British complacency, or the old battles between public and private sectors which must work together.

"So I tell you honestly the public sector reform agenda – more flexibility, accountability and personalisation – will not stall but be stepped up; we will go ahead with our civil service reforms; and if the Government had £22 billion to spend it will not be for an expensive renationalisation (the railways). We will put investment in schools and hospitals first."

And he promised Government action on the thorny issue of pension provision.

Mr Brown said: "I tell you we will work with the unions to do what it takes to tackle the gross injustice of workers who through no fault of their own find their pensions have been destroyed ... we will do what it takes to make sure that all workers can have security and dignity in retirement."