MANCHESTER, England (AP) — As a mutiny swirled in his ranks and pundits took aim, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stood before his party's faithful Tuesday and argued that the qualities his critics disparage — his seriousness and lack of flair — are exactly what Britain needs as it faces economic turmoil.
Joking about his gloomy demeanor, a relaxed Brown thrilled his governing Labour Party's annual meeting with an address studded with pledges on totemic issues for loyalists and sharp attacks on the main opposition Conservatives.
"Everyone knows that I'm all in favor of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice," Brown said with a grin, delivering a swipe at his two young rivals: Conservative leader David Cameron and, within his own party, Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
Plummeting poll ratings and public anger over rising gas and food prices have prompted a simmering rebellion within the Labour Party, whose members fear the statistic-spouting micromanager lacks the presence and eloquence to win over voters in the next election. Dissidents have urged Brown to step aside — perhaps for a leader more charismatic and telegenic than the paunchy Scotsman. One junior minister resigned last week rather than offer his backing.
The Conservatives hold a huge lead over Labour in opinion polls and are predicted to win a landslide victory in the next national election — which must be called by mid-2010.
But Brown, Treasury chief for a decade under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, hopes jitters in the world economy will give him the chance to prove his leadership credentials and expose the inexperience of his rivals.
Brown used his address to the party, crafted with a new team of speechwriters, to quell any mutiny.
"I know who I am, I know what I want to do in this job. And I know the best way to deal with tough times is to face them down," he told delegates.
His wife Sarah, who is rarely heard from, set a warm tone when she walked on stage and reminded the delegates that as well as being prime minister, Brown is also a husband and father. A video clip featuring Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama praising Brown while visiting London drew thunderous applause.
Skirting over foreign policy challenges in Afghanistan and Iraq, Brown rooted his speech in domestic concerns: child care, the health service and education. He posed a direct challenge to the Conservatives — promising to expose them as a party of the few, not the many.
"What has become clear is that Britain cannot trust the Conservatives to run the economy," Brown said, speaking in a vast conference hall in the northern city of Manchester.
He spoke with confidence and offered a rare glimpse of his emotions. He said a revolt over income tax changes that would have raised levies on Britain's poorest workers had jolted his confidence.
"It really hurt that suddenly people felt I wasn't on the side of people on middle and modest incomes. ... From now on, it's the only place I'll ever be," Brown said.
His voice cracked as he recalled care he received from Britain's health service after a rugby accident which cost him his sight in one eye, and almost left him blind.
Tony Travers, a political scientist at the London School of Economics, said Brown's strategy seemed to be to humanize his image, which has long been derided as wooden.
"He obviously tried to warm his message up a bit with the use of his wife. She's certainly a softer and more user-friendly image," Travers said. But he stressed voters will be the judge of Brown's success in remaking his image.
Loyalists whooped with delight at pledges to make sweeping cuts to Britain's carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and to scrap charges for cancer drugs. While Brown basked in rich applause, the acclaim didn't match the fervor once commanded by Blair. Brown acknowledged he is very different from his charismatic predecessor.
"If people say I'm too serious, quite honestly there's a lot to be serious about," he said.
Rebels insist defeat in a tricky special election pending in Scotland — or during new Parliamentary battles over unpopular terrorism laws — could still lead to Brown's ouster.
But Brown's prospective challengers have held their fire during the five-day party convention, which closes Wednesday.
Miliband, Brown's likeliest rival for the leadership, praised the speech as he left the conference hall.
"I think Gordon found his true voice," he said.
source: Brown says his serious style is what UK needs
The Associated Press