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Gordon-mania grips Britain's ruling party

A wave of Gordon-mania surged through the English seaside resort of Bournemouth this week, as Britain's ruling Labour Party embraced its new leader with passion.

world Updated: Sep 28, 2007 21:27 IST

A wave of Gordon-mania surged through the English seaside resort of Bournemouth this week, as Britain's ruling Labour Party embraced its new leader with passion.

Previously known mostly for being "dour," Prime Minister Gordon Brown has emerged as a beaming new leader at the party's annual conference, which was also gripped by growing talk of a possible snap election.

Since succeeding Tony Blair in June, the former finance minister -- long respected as a formidable intellect but short on social skills -- has lightened his public image amid rising opinion poll ratings.

And his efforts are paying off among Labour members. In the seafront complex where the conference took place, many stopped off to have their photographs taken next to a life-size cardboard cut-out of Brown.

"All women loved Blair, but me, I don't mind grumpy old men," joked 69-year-old John Bunker, a party member from south Wales, summing up the all-pervasive warmth of feeling towards the new leader at the conference.

On the long, sandy beach below the conference centre, visitors carried cloth bags printed with the name "Gordon!" in black and green letters below a mildly terrifying stencilled image of the prime minister.

Meanwhile, a cafe near the conference centre advertised an evening of "Gordon and Tonic", rather than gin and tonic.

Brown even managed to keep his dignity while joining in with a voluptuous female singer who closed the conference with performances of socialist anthem "The Red Flag" and stirring English hymn "Jerusalem".

The new slogan "Not Flash, Just Gordon", dreamed up by Labour's advertising agency to describe the premier, has been much quoted by reporters as an example of how Labour is trying to capitalise on his down-to-earth image.

The phrase, a play on words around the comic book superhero Flash Gordon, also captures the contrast with the often showbusiness approach to politics of the Blair years.

"It was a relief, really," a member who would give her name only as Marian from Edinburgh in Scotland told AFP of the transition from choreographed conferences under Blair to this year's event.

She said that under Blair, there had been staff in the hall encouraging members to clap at appropriate times.

"It was scary...of course this conference is more boring than it used to be, but there is more substance really," she added.

It was not only the regular party members who were charmed by Brown. Glamorous television presenter Mariella Frostrup, who hosted a question and answer session with Brown on Wednesday, also seemed to have caught Gordon-mania.

Frostrup opened the discussion with Brown, who seemed to start wearing gel in his previously mop-like hair at conference, by giggling: "Prime minister...I'll lapse into Gordon shortly I'm sure."

But although Brown has started wearing smarter suits and tidied up his hair, he was recently pictured with his trousers tucked into his socks, suggesting that his absent-minded approach to sartorial matters lingers.

It may be this which meant that he lost out to David Cameron, leader of the main opposition Conservatives, in a joke card game distributed by Sky News television to conference attendees which rated politicians on attributes including their looks.

Brown scored 47 and Cameron rated 52, although both were awarded seven out of ten for charisma.

In more traditional polls, Brown was buoyed by a new opinion survey during the conference showing his party 11 points ahead of the Tories, fueling growing speculation he could call snap elections as early as next week.

The prime minister's charms have not, though, convinced everyone in Bournemouth, which outside conference season is a bastion of support for the main opposition Conservatives.

"Brown or Blair, it will be the same, but the conference is good for business," said a man serving at a convenience store a few metres away.

First Published: Sep 28, 2007 21:24 IST