British PM Tries To Silence Party Critics

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown waves to the crowd after delivering his keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference, in Manchester, northern England, Tuesday Sept. 23, 2008.
AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faced down critics in his party and the country with a rousing and emotive speech Tuesday, vowing to heed his mistakes and lead the country out of the global economic downturn.

Acknowledging his faults and joking about his often gloomy demeanor, a more relaxed Brown energized his governing Labour Party's annual conference with an address studded with pledges on the organization's totemic issues and attacks on the main opposition Conservatives.

Brown - introduced to delegates by his wife Sarah, and in a video clip by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama - won thunderous applause with promises to offer more free child care, protect Britain's health service and defeat his youthful rival - Conservative Party leader David Cameron.

"What has become clear is that Britain cannot trust the Conservatives to run the economy," Brown said, speaking from notes in a conference hall in the northern English city of Manchester.

"Everyone knows that I'm all in favor of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice," Brown said - in an apparent swipe at both Cameron, and challengers in his own ranks, including young Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

With a growing rebellion within his Labour Party, plummeting poll ratings and public anger over rising gas and food prices, Brown hopes his bold speech can silence dissent and win back voters who have deserted his Labour party.

But while Brown won rich applause from delegates - a tricky special election pending in Scotland and new battles ahead over unpopular terrorism laws could still lead to his ouster.

"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," Brown told delegates.

Party dissidents have urged Brown to quit, and one junior minister resigned last week rather than continue to support Brown.

But Brown's prospective challengers have held their fire during the five-day party convention which began Saturday - pledging loyalty at a time of economic turmoil.

"The speech was an excellent speech. I think Gordon found his true voice," Miliband said as he left the conference hall following Brown's speech.

Ex-Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said the address had been a triumph.

"He showed that he was a serious prime minister for serious times," Hain said. "He showed the Conservatives have got no answers and that he's the man to take on the world's problems."