Britain's Brown vows to lead Labour into elections

BRIGHTON, England -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted he won't quit his post as his governing Labour Party met Sunday for its annual convention before a national election the party is expected to lose.

Brown's party trails far behind the main opposition Conservative Party in opinion polls, and has suffered heavy defeats in recent local council and European elections.

Brown himself has weathered sharp criticism of his leadership, not just from opposition politicians but also from within his own ranks. His clumsy handling of anger over Scotland's decision to release the Lockerbie bomber, and an embarrassing admission that his government would need to cut public spending - despite earlier denials - have fueled new doubts about Brown's prospects of leading Labour into the election.

Some critics, including ex-interior minister Charles Clarke, also have claimed that Brown is in poor health and should step aside to make way for a more popular leader.

"I do not roll over," Brown told BBC television. "Leadership is fighting for what you believe in."

Brown, who will address the five-day conference in seaside Brighton on Tuesday, must by law call an election before June 2010, and his Labour Party will be seeking a fourth consecutive term in office. Labour won the three previous elections with Tony Blair as party leader. The next vote is expected in April or May.

The 58-year-old Brown, who was awarded a world statesman of the year honor in New York last week, hopes that by the time Britons vote, he will have earned similar praise at home for his handling of the economic crisis.

"Leadership is about the strength to take the tough decisions, but sometimes when you take the tough decisions, it takes time for people to see the benefit," Brown told the BBC.

The latest opinion polls give the Conservatives a lead of more than 15 percentage points over Labour, and suggest the public no longer trusts Brown - a former Treasury chief - to lead the country's economic recovery.

"The worst case scenario is a really bad defeat. We have got to start fighting to win, instead of keeping our heads down heading for defeat," said Welsh Secretary Peter Hain as delegates were gathering for the Brighton conference.

Unlike Labour's rise to office in 1997 - when Blair promised sweeping social reforms - Britain's next election will be fought amid deep pessimism.

The three main political parties acknowledge the government must cut spending and limit services to reduce mounting debts. Lawmakers are also battling to rebuild public trust following a damaging scandal over legislators' excessive expense claims.


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