This week, the British Labour party is holding its annual party conference in Manchester. It will be Tony Blair's last conference as leader, and just to remind him of the fact, 20,000 protesters turned out to demand his resignation. But with Blair having already promised to step down at some undefined time in the future, attention is focusing on his expected successor, Chancellor Gordon Brown. Brown's keynote speech today was widely regarded as his pitch for the leadership. Unfortunately, it's clear from that speech that his leadership will not be that different from Blair's. He wedded himself to the Blairite platform of cuddling up to America and being First Cheerleader in Bush's "war on terror", public service "reform" and privatisation, identity cards and indefinite detention, being "tough on crime" and even harsher on immigrants. So anyone looking for a serious change of direction following Blair's departure is going to be disappointed. However, he also laid out a few points of his own, focussing on constitutional reform. He's hinted at a written constitution and the possibility of electoral reform (though Labour, as a large party, naturally prefers preferential voting to proportional representation). And he seems eager to continue the program of devolving power away from Westminster (though it will be interesting to see if this is real devolution, or the clayton's sort pursued by Blair). Most importantly, he said that
it is in my view right that in future, Parliament, not the executive, makes the final decisions on matters as important as peace and war.
This is good news - but still my overwhelming feeling is disappointment that the UK Labour Party can't come up with anything better than this. The Tories are trying to reinvent themselves and push to the centre by discarding Thatcherism. If they are to win a fourth term, then Labour needs to offer something other than "more of the same".