Expectation grows before Brown’s big speech

Gordon Brown will deliver his crucial leader’s speech to the Labour party conference in Manchester this afternoon.

The prime minister has spent the week amid a frenzy of speculation about a potential leadership challenge from foreign secretary David Miliband.

Activists have been enraged by the media’s attention on Mr Miliband’s ‘coded messages’ but have also admitted they want Mr Brown to deliver the goods when he speaks later today.

Initial indications had suggested Mr Brown would strike a personal note, appealing with contrition for his failings while at No 10.

But after a week of widespread solidarity among conference delegates the tone is now expected to prove more bullish, with the emphasis on Mr Brown’s credentials as the man best placed to see Britain through the economic downturn.

One aide told the Guardian newspaper: “The speech’s subtext is to prove there is no other politician than Brown that has the knowledge and experience to take the country through last week’s threats to the whole edifice of British banking.”

The prime minister is not expected to openly attack those calling for a leadership election, including former home secretary Charles Clarke, during the speech.

And Alistair Darling, Alan Johnson, Hazel Blears, Jacqui Smith, James Purnell and Geoff Hoon have all insisted Mr Brown is the right man to guide Britain through the current climate of intense economic uncertainty.

Three major protests on Iraq and public sector worker pay have failed to knock the PM off his stride so far, with Mr Brown using a question and answer session over the weekend to reiterate the party was concentrated on solving the problems faced by Britain.

The conference has largely taken place without a hitch, but Labour and Mr Brown continue to languish in the polls.

While his speech is unlikely to feature his oft-repeated line of “getting on with the job”, Mr Brown will champion Labour’s record over the last 11 years in his speech, the bulk of which was reportedly written more than a month ago.