British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown replaced Prime Minister Tony Blair as leader of the governing Labour Party yesterday, days before he takes over as prime minister after a decade in waiting.
Brown first vied with Blair to lead the party in 1994 -- but was persuaded to stand aside, sparking an often turbulent relationship between the men at the pinnacle of British politics for 10 years.
As Blair prepared to hand over party power at a conference in Manchester, England, Brown was reportedly weighing a reversal of one of his predecessor's most contentious policies and restoring the right of protesters to demonstrate freely outside parliament.
The move would scrap legislation passed in July 2005 that bans unauthorized protests within 800m of parliament. Demonstrators must seek written police approval 24 hours in advance.
The Sunday Times reported Brown was considering the change, aimed at repairing relations with protesters -- including sections of his party -- angered by the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Brown, a 56-year-old Scot, faced no challenge from fellow legislators to replace Blair, and a poll for the Observer newspaper yesterday hinted his appointment will boost the party -- putting Labour ahead of the opposition Conservatives for the first time since last October.
Labour garnered 39 percent, while the Conservatives took 36 percent, in the Ipsos-Mori poll of 1,970 people taken between June 14 and last Wednesday.
Brown also outscored young Conservative chief David Cameron on the ability to lead Britain, with 40 percent of voters backing Brown to 22 percent who favor his rival. No margin of error was given, but in similar samples it is typically plus or minus 2 percent.
The incoming prime minister has scotched claims he will seek to loosen ties with US President George W. Bush to appease rank-and-file party members angered over the Iraq war.
"It is in our national interest that the prime minister of the United Kingdom has a good relationship with the president of the United States," he said.
Several hundred people gathered outside the conference venue to join a protest against the war.
Ahead of the handover, the Independent on Sunday reported Blair's staff had made plans to sack Brown in 2005, publishing extracts of leaked government documents.
It claimed the memos outlined proposals to appoint a new chancellor of the exchequer following the party's last national election victory. Brown was to be demoted under the plans, which were scrapped after he played a key role in the 2005 election campaign, the newspaper said.
"They got into tension," outgoing deputy Labour leader John Prescott told BBC TV. "But breaking apart is an entirely different thing."
Blair's Downing Street office refused to comment, saying it doesn't discuss leaked documents.
Six members of parliament standing to become Brown's party deputy were awaiting the results of a ballot of 3.5 million party members, affiliated labor union members and lawmakers. Former postman Alan Johnson, the current education secretary, is favorite to take the post -- and may later be offered the role of deputy prime minister.
Brown will face a first national election test in 2009 or 2010.
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