Former President Clinton Praises Britain's Labour Party

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton charmed Britain's Labour Party with effusive praise Wednesday, but warned delegates to remind voters of their accomplishments so they did not suffer defeats like America's Democrats.

Clinton told the governing party's annual conference that, after nine years in power, the biggest danger Labour faced was that voters could take its achievements for granted. He urged delegates to remind Britain of the good works Prime Minister Tony Blair's government had done.

"You have produced prosperity and social progress for so long it is easy for people to believe that it is just part of the landscape, that ... if you get a set of new faces in the driver's seat surely they wouldn't change what's working," he said.

Clinton said that had happened in the United States when President George W. Bush took power in 2000.

"I have been there," he said, recalling that his administration had cut the United States' deficit drastically only to watch it balloon after Bush took office. "I say that to remind you that it can change quickly."

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Delegates at the conference gave a celebrity's welcome to Clinton, whom they love far better than Bush, who is widely despised in the party. His 40-minute speech to a packed auditorium was frequently interrupted by applause.

With its most successful leader ever on his way out of office, Labour is at a potentially perilous crossroads. Damaging infighting has tarnished its image, and the opposition Conservative Party is surging after nearly a decade in the doldrums.

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

Some Labour backers worry that Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who is widely expected to succeed Blair but lacks his charm and polish, will be unable to beat back the charismatic, young Conservative leader David Cameron.

Clinton told Labour it should be proud of how it had changed Britain.

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

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Delegate Christopher Wellbelove, a local council member in south London, said Clinton's reminder of the U.S. Democratic Party's defeat by 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 Conservatives a shot at winning elections, expected in 2009. "It can all be taken away."

He said Clinton's speech made Labour nostalgic for the years when it was glad to see Blair build a close relationship with an American leader. Many in the party are furious at Blair's alliance with Bush.

"Everybody kind of wishes he was still president," Wellbelove said.

Clinton spoke warmly of both Blair and Brown, saying they had put Britain at the forefront of anti-poverty efforts and the fight against climate change, issues the former U.S. president has pushed since he left the White House.

The conference devoted much of Wednesday to the two issues, with Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and London Mayor Ken Livingstone speaking on the environment and aid for Africa.

Geldof brought a rock star's irreverence and a boiling anger over Africa's woes to his remarks. He said Blair and Brown had done much to put the continent on the world political agenda, but with 90 percent of African children going to bed hungry every night, there was much more to do.

Clinton did not mention the bickering at home over whether he or Bush missed opportunities to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, but made clear he differed with his successor's approach to foreign policy.

"Since we can't kill, jail or occupy all of our enemies ... we also have to spend some time and money making more and more partners and fewer enemies," he said. "It is so much cheaper to alleviate poverty, put kids in school, fight disease ... in a poor country than it is to fight a war."

In a reference to the political damage Blair had suffered at home because of his relationship with Bush, Clinton thanked him for maintaining Britain's alliance with America "through quite a lot of storm as well as occasional sunshine."