- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

12:47 p.m.

MANCHESTER, England — Former President Bill Clinton sought today to boost Britain’s badly divided Labor Party, warning supporters not to let it suffer the same fate as America’s defeated Democrats.

Delegates at Labors annual conference gave a celebrity’s welcome to a leader they love far better than President Bush, who is widely despised in the party.

Mr. Clinton charmed a packed auditorium with a 40-minute speech in which he lavished praise on Prime Minister Tony Blair and Treasury chief Gordon Brown, Mr. Blair’s likely successor.

In a reference to the political damage Mr. Blair suffered at home because of his relationship with Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton thanked him for maintaining Britain’s alliance with the United States “through quite a lot of storm as well as occasional sunshine.”

He said that because Labor had been so successful in strengthening Britain’s economy and modernizing its society, there was a danger that voters would assume the improvements were “just a part of the landscape” and that any party that came to power would make similar choices.

“I have been there,” he said, recalling that his administration cut the U.S. deficit drastically, only to watch it balloon under Mr. Bush. “I say that to remind you that it can change quickly.”

With the departing Mr. Blair, Labor’s most successful leader ever, the party faces a potentially perilous future. Infighting has tarnished its image, and the opposition Conservative Party is surging after nearly a decade in the doldrums.

A fierce party rebellion forced Mr. Blair to announce Sept. 7 that he will quit within a year. In his emotional final conference speech Tuesday, he warned the party to stop its internal battles or risk being punished at the polls.

Some Labor backers worry that Mr. Brown, who lacks Mr. Blair’s charm and polish, will be unable to beat back the Conservative leader, David Cameron. But a battle to keep the finance minister from getting the top job could be divisive.

Mr. Clinton told the delegates they should be proud of all they had done to change Britain.

“Your prime minister, his government, your party, have been a stunning success,” he said, praising Labor for creating jobs and leading the way internationally on fighting poverty and global warming. “None of this is an accident.”

He argued that the party would always have to change its policies to keep up in a fast-moving world and urged them not to let themselves be cast as supporters of the status quo while their opponents are seen as advocates of change.

Delegate Christopher Wellbelove, a local council member in southern London, said Mr. Clinton’s reminder of the Democrats’ defeat by Mr. Bush and his Republicans was chilling.

“We got a very clear warning that if we don’t stick together, we could lose everything” and give the Tories a shot at winning elections expected in 2009. “It can all be taken away.”

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