By William James, Kylie MacLellan and Andrew Osborn
MANCHESTER England (Reuters) - Bill de Blasio, New York's Democrat mayor, endorsed Britain's harried opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband on Wednesday, calling him an extraordinary politician on course to win "a great victory" at a national election next year.
Speaking at Labour's annual conference, the last before the election in May, de Blasio praised the British politician's speech a day earlier even though media and some Labour activists said it had fallen flat.
"Ed's plan, his vision, it's not political talk. It's substantive, it's real," de Blasio told delegates in Manchester, northern England. "Ed, your agenda is a blueprint for what a fairer, more prosperous, stronger United Kingdom will look like. That, my friends, is not only why you must win, that is why you will win."
With Labour activists facing an eight-month slog on the doorstep to convince voters to back Miliband and their party in the run-up to the election, ending the conference with de Blasio's endorsement would have been a morale booster. It should help confer credibility on Miliband, under pressure from some within his own party who worry whether voters see him as a future prime minister.
De Blasio's appearance reflected a trend in British politics among the two main parties - to borrow policies, campaign tactics and even advisers from the United States.
New York's former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, spoke at the ruling Conservative party's conference in 2012, calling Prime Minister David Cameron a "gold medal prime minister".
And Cameron, whose party narrowly trails Labour in the polls, has employed U.S. President Barack Obama's former campaign manager, Jim Messina, to offer strategic advice.
De Blasio, elected last November, is the first Democrat mayor of New York in two decades. One of the central issues of his campaign, tackling economic inequality, including by raising taxes on wealthy New Yorkers, has been echoed by Miliband.
Miliband promised on Tuesday to raise the rate of income tax paid by the highest earners and introduce a tax on homes worth more than 2 million pounds.
On Tuesday he announced his party would introduce fees for tobacco firms if elected, an idea it said it had based on 'sin taxes' introduced by Obama in 2009.
Miliband was, however, forced to defend his conference speech, which he gave without notes, after forgetting to deliver vital parts of it. He failed to say how he would tackle the budget deficit or address concerns about immigration - two of the biggest pre-election issues.
Miliband, 44, has been ridiculed in the British press, who portray him as socially awkward. Opinion polls suggest many Britons do not think he is competent enough to become prime minister.
But de Blasio, whose speech received a standing ovation, offered strong support for Miliband.
"I can feel in this room what you are capable of and I'm confident this is going to be the last conference before a great victory in 2015," he said.
"We know what does work, and Ed Miliband laid it out clearly and squarely yesterday. He made clear it is a historic moment, when bold action can and will make a difference."
Miliband has leaned heavily on American advice since Labour lost power in 2010, using Arnie Graf - a man described by some as a mentor to Obama - to conduct a review of his party and work with grassroots activists.
Another high-profile U.S. import, Obama's former election adviser David Axelrod, was brought in this year to try to help replicate Obama's electoral success by focusing on wealth inequality.
Miliband met Obama in July while on a visit to Washington. Commentators likened his "Together we can" message at this week's conference to Obama's "Yes we can" campaign slogan.
(Reporting by William James and Kylie MacLellan, Writing by Andrew Osborn, Editing by Angus MacSwan)