Britain's Gordon Brown formally announces candidacy

( LatWp ) - Gordon Brown formally announced his candidacy to succeed Tony Blair as head of the Labor Party and British prime minister, and for the first time received Blair's official endorsement.

``In the weeks and months ahead, my task is to show I have the new ideas, the vision and the experience to earn the trust of the British people,'' Brown said in his central London announcement. His declaration came less than 24 hours after Blair announced that he would step down on June 27, paving the way for his longtime political partner and rival to succeed him.

``I want to lead a government humble enough to know its place--where I will always strive to be--and that is on people's side,'' said Brown, who has served as chancellor of the exchequer, or finance minister, since Blair took office in May 1997 and has been widely regarded as the nation's prime minister-in-waiting for a decade.

Blair on Friday did something he has resolutely resisted doing for years when he said, ``I am absolutely delighted to give my full support to Gordon as the next leader of the Labor Party and as prime minister and to endorse him fully.``

While Blair and Brown were the team that created New Labor, a more centrist version of the traditionally left-leaning Labor Party, they have at times barely concealed their frustration and anger with each other.

But Friday, the two lavishly praised each other as Brown, a shoo-in to win a party leadership race in the coming weeks, prepares to take over a party facing a vigorous challenge from Conservative Party leader David Cameron and a nation deeply angry about Blair's role in the Iraq war.

Blair said Brown has ``the strength and the experience and the judgment to make a great prime minister'' and is ``absolutely determined to drive the modernization of the country forward.''

And Brown, who has been measured in his praise for Blair over the years, repaid the compliment by saying Blair ``has led our country for 10 years with distinction, with courage, with passion and with insight.''

But in a wide-ranging speech that covered issues from emergency-room care to global terrorism, Brown clearly sought to distance himself from Blair and emphasized his commitment to ``governing in a different way.''

He said he intended to place more emphasis on relations with Parliament, saying that the government must be ``more open and accountable'' to the legislature ``in decisions about peace and war, in public appointments and in a new ministerial code of conduct.''

``I will listen and I will learn. I will strive to meet people's aspirations,'' said Brown, 56, the son of a Scottish minister from a mining town on Scotland's coast. ``I will form a government of all the talents, bringing people together, to listen, to learn and solve problems building on a broad sense of national purpose.''

In a thinly veiled swipe at Blair, who has been criticized by some for emphasizing television-age spin over the grit of policy, Brown, a famously bookish policy wonk, said, ``I do not believe politics is about celebrity.''

Brown also signaled a willingness to break with Blair on Iraq, an extremely unpopular war that has cost Blair and the Labor Party considerable support. While Blair, even in his farewell speech Thursday, defended his decision to join President Bush in Iraq, Brown on Friday said, ``I accept that mistakes have been made.''

While ``pledging to keep our obligations to the Iraqi people,'' Brown said, ``I do think that over the next few months the emphasis will shift.''

``We have got to concentrate more on political reconciliation in Iraq,'' he said. ``We have got to concentrate more on economic development so that people in Iraq, they feel they have got a stake in the country for the future.''

Brown said he planned to visit Iraq in the coming weeks to talk to British forces and Iraqi officials and ``assess what is being said to me.''

``I would not wish to underestimate the extent to which this new front has got to be opened,'' he said.

Analysts in Britain suggest that public's disapproval of the Iraq war and President Bush will force Brown to keep his distance from the U.S. administration, at least initially.

In an interview on BBC radio, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States and Britain would maintain strong transatlantic ties when Brown takes over, news agencies reported.

``Britain and America will always be friends, and I know that we will work very, very well with Gordon Brown when he becomes prime minister,'' Rice said.

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