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Kevin Maguire: Signed, shield and delivered.

Byline: Kevin Maguire

GORDON Brown is Labour's mobile human shield in this election.

MPs, ministers and Premier Tony Blair are queuing up to shelter in his shadow. Yesterday it was the turn of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who is fighting against an anti-war offensive in his Blackburn seat.

Members of the Cabinet as senior as Straw rarely require assistance - but the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has made a lack of trust in the government an issue.

So whenever a Labour politician is in a tight spot the party sends out an SOS for a visit from the Chancellor with the golden touch.

Yesterday Brown wooed voters from Blackburn to Bacup via Blackpool during a whistle-stop tour of Lancashire marginals.

One thousand loyalists bestowed him with four standing ovations at the annual conference of the Usdaw shopworkers' union.

The first was earned by walking on stage without tripping up.

Brown thumped out a litany of economic achievements delivered under his eight-year stewardship of the Treasury.

The record number of jobs, the minimum wage due to rise to pounds 5.35, paid holidays with more to come, tax credits and better schools and hospitals.

The shopworkers - slogan "towards an historic third term" - loved it and Brown basked in their applause.

Yet he came fully alive not at the conference but during visits with his wife Sarah to a couple of community centres and a school.

Fatherhood has clearly mellowed Brown.

His son John is aged 18 months so is back home instead of on the stump, but talk of the little lad is the perfect entry point for a politician seeking the votes of hard-working families. Stickers replaced statistics as kids got the Chancellor on his knees - something the Tories have consistently failed to do.

Asking youngsters their names, he tells them he has a little boy called John who likes Bob The Builder and Balamory.

We also know from a chat with a teacher that John's favourite word used to be "no" but that's been replaced by "more". Spotting a little girl drawing a series of circles, Brown called Straw over to joke that she must be writing the Budget because there were so many noughts.

If Britain had never invaded Iraq, Labour would walk this election. If the economy was weak, Labour would lose it, no question.

To watch Brown in action is to wonder at the Blairites who as recently as the turn of the year thought they could fight and win an election without Brown and the economy.

The patching of the relationship between the men who Bono called Labour's Lennon and McCartney means the historic first third term for Labour is on - despite bumps on the road to May 5.

Brown today visits the West Midlands for the third time since the Rover crisis.

He will also make a speech on Britishness, trespassing on traditional Tory territory by arguing that freedom allied to social justice make the country great.

His quest is to spread Labour's message across the country. Labour rebel Brian Sedgemore's surprise defection to the Lib Dems provoked his anger as it was a distraction from that mission.

"Brian Sedgemore is retiring, he's no longer an MP, he didn't vote for the government," he said dismissively. "What people care about are the real issues."

Brown in 2005 is to Labour what Blair was to the party in 1997 and 2001: an election winner.

Grateful MPs, including Straw, are unlikely to forget that fact in the next Parliament when Labour elects a new leader.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 27, 2005
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