Election victories in the West Midlands last week were "a seminal moment" which show Labour is ready to fight and win a General Election, according to Cabinet Minister Hazel Blears.

The Local Government Secretary spoke to The Birmingham Post at Labour's annual conference last night, as Gordon Brown prepared to make his keynote speech today.

The Prime Minister refused to rule out a snap poll, insisting he was simply "getting on with the job".

It is thought unlikely that any announcement will be made today, despite reports that Cabinet colleagues have been urging him to hold a vote on October 25.

Instead, Mr Brown will focus on his proposals to continue reforming the NHS, including making it easier for patients to see GPs in the evenings and weekends, and a blitz on poor hygiene in hospitals.

Mr Brown begins his first conference as party leader with a clear lead in the polls over the Conservatives.

A survey published this weekend gave Labour a six point lead on 39 per cent of the vote compared with 33 per cent for the Conservatives, led by David Cameron, with the Liberal Democrats on 16 per cent.

Labour has been buoyed by the apparent failure of the Tories to pin the blame for the Northern Rock crisis on Mr Brown, and will attempt to turn the turbulent events of recent weeks to its advantage.

One of the themes of the gathering in Bournemouth will be that Mr Brown has already proved himself to be a strong leader, after dealing with flooding, foot-and-mouth outbreaks and terrorist incidents, as well as difficulties in the banking system.

"When you are faced with a difficult issue, whether that's terrorism, the floods or Northern Rock, then people what to know they've got somebody who's got a bit of experience, a bit of judgement and strength. And, very clearly, they've determined that's Gordon Brown and not David Cameron.

"So as long as we carry on doing the things people want us to do, we will be in a very strong position." She highlighted Labour wins in three council by-elections in the West Midlands last week.

Labour took a seat from the Tories in the Brandwood ward in Birmingham, which will be part of the Selly Oak constituency at the next election. It also won seats in Nuneaton and Worcester, causing the Conservatives to lose overall control of Worcester council.

Ms Blears said: "We are not going to say we are going to win the election on the basis of three by-elections, but it was very encour-aging because these are the type of places we need to win.

"Worcester was particularly significant, as the Conservatives lost control of the council. So it was quite a seminal moment."

She refused to be drawn into speculation about an election date, insisting: "That's up to the Prime Minister."

But she added: "What I know is that when that election is called, we will be ready to fight it."