Brown press conference as-it-happened

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11:20 - The last prime minister's press conference of the year, but things are dying down all around us. MPs have already left Westminster for their constituencies. It's the slowest news day of the year. And everyone is just about ready not say the word credit crunch for at least two weeks. Well, that last part isn't necessarily true. The only joke anyone seems to make anymore is: "Well, that's the credit crunch for you." No prizes for guessing the main topics in today's conference. Gordon Brown just opened a major oil conference in Central London, and he'll be looking to sell that (he always arrives at these thing with two sentences he wants imprinted on everyone's brain, and faces a roomful of journalists who want to talk about something else). But hacks will be concentrating on the economy, notably Jaguar and the sneaking suspicion Jaguar is just the beginning.

11:23 - Brown should arrive in a few minutes. Today marks the final professional responsibility for lobby journalists, who tend to enjoy the same holidays as politicians themselves. Before you start telling me how lucky I am, I'm not a lobby journalists. I'm a journalist who sometimes goes to the lobby.

11:32 - The prime minister arrives, and starts by wishing us all a happy Christmas. Yeah, well, he's two minutes late.

11:33 - He begins with a general outline of the last few weeks' activity - welfare reform, Royal Mail privat.... whatever its called, the Pre-Budget Report (now called 'be afraid, be very afraid' by journalists). There follows some rhetoric on building during the downturn and "building tomorrow today". He really did say that last bit.

11:35 - There'll be a white paper on social mobility in the new year and a decision on Heathrow expansion - "real hope now, and real hope for the future". That's obviously today's soundbite. Now he talks up Britain - the most open economy, furthest outreach etc. "I'm very happy to answer any questions," he says, "just please don't throw your shoes at me." Genuine laughter.

11:38 - Brown is asked if he regrets saying there would be no more 'stop-go' on the economy. He says its unfortunate we're the victim of a global downturn, and reiterates the UK is in a strong position to deal with this. He's only mildly evasive.

11:39 - He's asked, pointlessly, if there's a date he'd hold a general election. He'd be genuinely suicidal to answer that. And he doesn't. Instead he says politicians will be judged on what they do, not political trivia and "personalities and conflicts". Sly dig at the media there, but not an altogether unfair one. And by that I don't mean to say he isn't holding secret meeting about when to hold an election if the polls remain the same - he almost certainly is.

11:42 - Brown just implicitly scolded Richard Branson, which gives me a little glee. Branson was wrong to say the British economy was [insert "Gordon Ramsey's favourite word", as the journalist who asked the question put it, here]. There's real hope because of the investments we're making in the future, Brown says.

11:44 - The pound and the euro will soon be worth the same rate. Will Brown ever step in to save it? Britain doesn't have a policy to target the exchange rate, it targets inflation instead. "The basis of our economy is what we do to target inflation," he says. The day to day currency movements are not something it's worth giving "a running commentary on".

11:46 - Brown is asked why he said last year that he'd stopped Northern Rock infecting the rest of the economy, and that it proved the tripartite system (FSA, Bank of England, Treasury - you really should know this by now) was working well. He answers like a river flows - avoiding obstacles, evading rugged areas - but not in a nimble way. He makes it look as if the quote expressed confidence in the tripartite system, but that system hasn't done so well this year either, so it's a murky alley to defend yourself in. A few too many metaphors in this paragraph, I think. That's live coverage for you.

11:49 - Is there a Brown doctrine on foreign policy and would it allow the UK to invade a country without UN support? Interesting question. Brown says sometimes the UN doesn't do anything - primarily because of the veto - ie: this summer on Zimbabwe where efforts fell due to two countries. Brown makes general noises on international action, related to the environment, terrorism, and the economy. You need more effective global institutions, and the basis for that exists in bringing in the G20, a new US administration and working closely with emerging economies. It's hardly a doctrine, but it is consistent with what he's said in the past. That being said, consistency is only pleasing when it follows something impressive.

11:54 - It really is fascinating how obviously Brown hates talking about foreign affairs. He expresses disappointment the Middle East truce has been allowed to reach its timetabled end. He condemns the two rocket attacks against Israel this morning.

11:56 - Brown says the government is investigating several ways to incentivise saving. He defends low inflation as a vital part of a future recovery. He also says "there's more money going into pensioners", which is an image I could have done without.

11:57 - This Christmas there'll be a lot of pressure for parents to give kids the present they want, a journalist says. Is there too much to get them the best new gifts? Brown says he finds all the new toys "very innovative" and quite cheap. Blair would have made a cute little family man 'the strains of modern life' package out of this. Brown looks like he has no idea what his wife will buy their children for Christmas.

11:59 - Isn't it essential to provide credit for motor industry? And will the PM urge people to buy British made cars? He doesn't quite do that, actually, although he praises UK models and skills. He won't say today what his decision is on the industry. Next Question - how has 2008 been for him personally? "What I realised in 2008" is that the personality politics "doesn't mater at all". The key issues are "did you make the right judgements". Actually, he said that last year when he was explaining to Andrew Marr why he wasn't holding an election.

12:02 - What is the biggest change Brown wants to see in the US after Obama gets in, a Japanese journalist asks. He's happy Obama cares about climate change - and launches into a pre-planned bit about how it can help the economy. The UK and US will work closely on the economy. No surprises there.

12:04 - Painfully, Brown says he will be buying the X Factor single. I'm told he and his wife Sarah really do like this show, but this stuff makes me feel ill. "Alexandra is going to be a very successful singer in the future," he predicts.

12:05 - "In the spirit of the season of goodwill can you give us your view on your relationship with Peter Mandelson?" Brown's laugh gives a new meaning to the term 'forced'. "Peter Mandelson is doing a very good job as business secretary as I think everybody knows," is the answer.

12:06 - What is the Brown family doing to cut spending this Christmas? Brown says he's probably sending more Christmas cards than ever before. He seems to quickly check himself afterwards to make sure he hasn't inadvertently said something which might bite him later.

12:10 - It's always evident how painful the prime minister finds these conferences. He has the look of an overweight man going to the gym. He knows he has to do it, but he dreads it. He literally looks as if he counts down the minutes.

12:12 - How important is the EU in the downturn? Is he worried the Czechs are taking over the EU next year, given they don't always see eye-to-eye with him. Apparently the Czech leader told Brown yesterday their views are starting to align, especially on fiscal action. In Europe the debate on fiscal action is resolved, and now Obama will take the US in that direction too.

12:14 - How would Brown assess the presidency of George Bush? Historians will focus on September 11th, Brown says, and his lead in the war on terror. They will recognise there was a unique set of circumstances and Bush will be recognised too. The scary part is, he sounds like he genuinely believes that.

12:16 - Will Brown confirm the government will lend to businesses to get them through the credit crunch? The government's already doing that, the qeustion is how long it will do it and in what way.

12:19 - Fifa will probably give support to a British football team today. Does Brown like the sound of that, and will it threaten Wales and Scotland's teams? Brown believes it can all be resolved while still guaranteeing Scottish and Welsh team independence, but that when Britain holds the Olympics we should have a British team there.

12:22 - A Japanese journalist (the third so far) asks a question. He takes a long time to do it, primarily because he's reading it off a piece of paper, with a thick accent, and a low level of spoken English. Brown can't hide how exasperated he is. For a moment we got an idea of what he's like behind closed doors with troublesome underlings.

12:25 - Fantastic question by an African journalist who confidently leans back in his seat and asks if Britain will ever stop supporting dictators? Brown evades, predictably.

12:26 - He gives the last question to Nick Robinson of the BBC "in Christmas spirit". Perhaps he shouldn't have. Why is the PM so confident about an economy that everyone else says is in serious, serious trouble? Brown says he knows how difficult times are, but defends government action - retraining, skills for the future, that sort of thing.

12:26 - "We will help people through the downturn, but the decisions we make now are also for how we build in the upturn.... This is the first financial crisis of the global age." He describes this as the birth-pangs of a new age. You always pay more attention when Brown uses the biblical rhetoric, because everything else he says is couched in policy wonk/managerial code. And with that he wishes everyone happy Christmas.


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