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Brown leads first party rally as leader in bullish mood

Brown leads first party rally as leader in bullish mood

Prime Minister Gordon Brown greets stalwarts Sunday at his Labour Party's annual convention, which could end with a call for a snap general election.
Brown is riding high in the polls while his rival, opposition leader David Cameron, has sunk to an all-time low, and Brown has proven his leadership through a string of recent crises.
But growing problems in Britain's housing and financial market may make him wish to take rapid advantage of this golden opportunity.
No election is required before mid-2010, but Brown may choose to call an election, which would trigger a monthlong campaign and force the main opposition Conservatives to cancel their own conference, scheduled for next week.
The party is ready for an October election if Brown wants one, Labour's campaign coordinator, Douglas Alexander, told The Guardian on Saturday.
The Sunday Times predicted Oct. 25 was the likely date for Brown to call an election. Historically, Labour has lost elections held on short winter days and that is the last Thursday before the clocks are set back an hour.
However, Brown offered no clues that he was preparing for an election in an interview with The Sunday Times.
"I think that getting on with the job is what I'm doing, focussing on the work at hand," he told the newspaper.
Some say Brown is too cautious and stubborn to be forced into an early election.
"He isn't the kind of man to take risks," said Leighton Vaughan Williams, head of political forecasting at Nottingham Business School.
"There is no doubt that he would win, but right now he'd only just scrape it. He's likely to wait until next autumn, or even spring in 2009," Williams said.
Labour trailed the main opposition Conservatives in polls almost since the 2005 election, but now holds a lead of between 5 and 8 percent over its rivals.
An ICM poll Wednesday gave Brown a 55-percent approval rating compared with Cameron's 37 percent _ the worst among leaders of the three major parties.
ICM questioned 1,005 adults between Sept. 13 and 16, and the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Brown's calm during attempted terror attacks on London and Glasgow _ which came in his first days of office in July _ and his move to open a new front on foreign policy, launching efforts on Darfur, Zimbabwe and overseas medical aid, have impressed stalwarts.
He has also kept a steady hand during the recent outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease.
During recent financial crisis, which prompted a run on deposits at British mortgage lender Northern Rock PLC _ few people blamed Brown, who was Treasury chief for 10 years.
But if Britain's financial and housing woes worsen, it is unlikely he will remain blameless in the eyes of struggling homeowners.
Tony Blair's last convention saw bitter infighting over an abortive attempt to force his exit and familiar rancor from party activists over the deeply unpopular Iraq war.
But rifts over Iraq are slowly being assuaged as British troops creep away from the front line, and Brown's coronation as leader _ he faced no challenge for the post _ has largely brought unity within the rank and file.
Brown's frosty reception of President George W. Bush during a first meeting at Camp David in July was lapped up by activists who derided Blair as the U.S. leader's poodle.
However, his embrace last week of longtime party nemesis Margaret Thatcher _ who pummeled Labour during her 11-year tenure in office, winning three straight elections for the Conservatives _ rankled with some.
It signaled Brown has no plan to reverse Blair's strategy of dominating the political center ground to squeeze out rivals, dashing hopes of the party's left who seek a return to traditional positions.
He has also courted rival legislators, appointing opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat lawmakers to head government policy reviews.
With a knack for the unexpected, Brown may have a surprise or two up his sleeve for the meeting in the coastal holiday town of Bournemouth, southern England.
Many of the 11,000 delegates are already bristling with hope that Brown will call a national election and translate his soaring opinion poll ratings into a fourth successive poll victory for Labour.
Alistair Darling, Brown's successor as Treasury chief, opens the rally Sunday, with Foreign Secretary David Miliband leading a session on international policy on Tuesday.
Blair will be in New York on business as Middle East envoy for the international Quartet of peacemakers.