Brown press conference as-it-happened
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By Ian Dunt
10:00 – Good morning and welcome to one of the prime minister’s somewhat irregular press conferences. No real rhyme or reason to when he calls them. Perhaps he’s going to call the election today. Or perhaps he feels the need to give more assurances on Afghanistan. Personally, I’d be wary. He really can’t do anything right at the moment, including bowing or writing letters. Later on this evening, David Cameron will be giving the Hugo Young memorial lecture. So, if you’re of the persuasion, you can start you day with the PM and end it with the leader of the opposition. That, it should be mentioned, is a very strange persuasion indeed. If you feel tempted, consult your local health practitioner.
10:07 – Brown emerges and discusses the human cost of Afghanistan. He says his thoughts and prayers today are on those struggling with the loss of a loved one .
10:08 – And then, rather suddenly, he tells us about Andy Burnham’s launch of the next stage of health care reform. He’s about to explain a little more about this. Burnham is next to him, and starts talking. He seems a little nervous and uncomposed. He suggests he doesn’t want to “overclaim” on the NHS. The next decade will see the NHS go from good to great, apparently. Incredibly tedious stuff emerging from Mr Burnham’s mouth. He says he will unveil new rights guarantees for patients.
10:10 – He repeats the plans to send patients to private hosptials if the NHS can’t deliver “on time”. In the next decade the NHS will move to becoming a more preventative service. This is also old news. There’ll be certain rights to health checks every five years. There’s talk of guaranteeing access to NHS dentists. More comments on “putting power in their hands” and all that follows.
10:12 – Questions for Brown begin. How did Brown feel after his phone conversation with the mother of the troop whose name he misspelt ? Brown says he feels her pain. “I understand very well” the pain she feels, and the way she expressed her grief is something he can also understand. He wanted to say during the conversation, but couldn’t because he didn’t know her, that when there’s a loss this big, it takes time to recover. “You’ve got to take every day at a time.” He says she will get comfort by the fact her son died playing an important role for the country.
10:15 – He moves on to the strategy in Afghanistan, and the reasons for war. “We believe the Afghans can run themselves,” he argues. Well he certainly planned for this question. “I need to do my best on behalf of the nation to comfort those who are bereaved.” To be fair, no-one could – or should – doubt his sincerity here. He says he often writes several letters for each person killed.
10:17 – Brown is told that no-one would doubt his sincerity, but adds the letter was full of mistakes. Why doesn’ t he say there are mistakes in the letter and apologise for them ? A foolish question, he apologised for the letter yesterday, really rather quickly. He reiterates that again. He says again that he understands the pain people feel. He is told that when US troops die, the families don’t crificise the government for sending the boys out without decent equipment. Does Brown ever think we sent them out without the right stuff ? “Everytime I read out the names of the people in the Commons who died, everytime I have someone in my constituency who has suffered a bereavement, I have to ask a question: are we doing the right thing by our troops?” He insists they have the equipment, and that the funding is there. They’ve ordered a thousand vehicles in the last few days.
10:20 – The idea the government is in any way careless is “completely wrong”. Ms Jane says her son bled to death because there wasn’t a helicopter for him. Is she wrong? Brown is looking into it. He says in normal circumstances there is always helicopter capability. He has asked for a full report into the soldier’s death. More questions on the Afghan strategy lead Brown to insist on concentrating on populated areas, and not just the countryside. He reiterates the fact that Britain isn’t an occupying army, it is a partner to the Afghan people. He admits there aren ‘ t enough Afghan troops to hold the ground Brits have taken.
10:25 – What does Brown say to those who say his unpopularity in the country is getting in the way of his ability to maintain support for the Afghan mission ? Brown says he talks to people throughout the country about the war. He feels the pain. “I do understand the sadness, and the anger is some cases,” he adds. He says it ‘ s his duty to reflect the country’s grief. That weird, unsuitable smile is back. Why is Brown failing to maintain support? Can modern society not maintain support when there are casualties?
10:28 – He repeats the old argument that the Afghan conflict is to stop terrorist plots in AfPak. He now extrapolates on this at length, saying leaving means Al-Qaida would pose a greater threat. He also stresses the international nature of the campaign. “This is a land that is far away and people have got to know why we are there.” He says there’s Al-Qaida in Yemen etc, but that the main threat comes from the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
10:32 – How big a problem is President Obama’s delay in sending troops as requested? Brown says they speak regularly and that the conditions he laid down on Karzai are in line with US and Nato concerns. He says Karzai is now ready to consider a new set of corruption laws, including international monitors. He has “reason to believe” that Karzai will do it.
10:34 – The Sun asks why Brown didn’t admit he misspelt her name on Sunday night. He says he wanted her to know he was sorry if any offence had been caused . “I issued a statement yesterday apologising for any grief which had been done by that. People know me well enough to know it would never be my intention to cause any grief to a greiving mother.”
10:36 – Is Brown relieved that David Miliband appears to have turned down the role of EU foreign high representative role? And does it mean Miliband could be a future leader ? Brown says Miliband was never a candidate, and that Britain is still behind Tony Blair.
10:37 – Will Brown continue pushing for a Tobin tax despite the fact the Americans don ‘ t like it? He says he was saying how financial institutions were global. He begins to get very boring indeed, in a manner you are no doubt familiar with. Brown wants a debate on a new contract between banks “and the society they serve”. He’s been emitting this rhetoric for over a year now, and nothing has happened, harsher critics might suggest. “I don’t think this debate can be avoided.”
10:39 – A question to Burnham!!!! Who would have thought it possible ? Sorry, I got so excited I missed it. Burnham looks like a manic depressive who has just discovered all of his Christmases have come at once: slightly happy. I’m pretty sure I just misspelt Christmases. This is not a good week for spelling mistakes. Better be careful. Back to the PM. Is Brown confident there might be a recovery by the end of the year? The meeting of G20 ministers in St Andrews gave some succour, he replies. He says disaster was prevented (businesses going under, unemployment) and tries to frame success that way, rather than concentrating on the fact we still happen to be in recession.
10:42 – Our own Alex Stevenson asks a question for politics.co.uk on the signatories to the anti-Brown petition on Downing Street, which he gave a generic response to. “I’m a parent also, I feel the pain of people who lose a loved one . I understand that when people are grieving, they need answers. I understand how long it takes for people to deal with the grief that we all experience.” Didn ‘ t really answer the question there, but emotional stuff from Brown nonetheless.
10:45 – Brown is asked about immigration and exit checks. He says the last government removed the control on exit checks, but that he had introduced ID cards for foreign nationals and exist checks. “Managed migration is the policy of this country, not uncontrolled immigration. The points system is designed to restrict the number of people without skills who can enter for work.”
10:47 – What does Brown make of the Tory pledge to repeal the hunting act? He thinks it’s ironic they will create a new quango to do it, and people will ask “what is this about”?
10:48 – What’s his assessment of Blair ‘s prospects for EU president? He’s not in a position to give a running commentary, but repeats his previous praise. “Our candidate is Tony Blair.” Glasgow North East has appalling health and poverty statistics, Brown is told. Why would anyone vote Labour on Thursday? Brown praises the Labour candidate. “People have got an enormous amount of faith in our candidate,” he finishes. It’s been three months since Al-Megrahi was released. Any information on his health ? The medical report was by independent people, and this is a matter for the Scottish administration.
10:52 – Will Brown match Cameron’s commitment to keeping up NHS spending in real terms ? Brown says: “The question is can David Cameron match his commitment,” given he wants to make so many cuts. Brown suggests he looks to the fact the Tories won’t back Labour commitments to making sure cancer patients get a meeting in two weeks etc. “Professionals are now under pressure,” he insists. “How does it make sense to get rid of [these guarantees].” Burnham reiterates these epoints, albeit with less life.
10:55 – Every single press conference a Japanese hack asks Brown a question which is barely comprehendible. Every time Brown’s face drops to a grimace. Today is just the same. An Australian hack tells Brown senior Conservatives in Australia came out overnight saying climate change is not man made, and says it would take 20 years for carbon storage to work. Brown says there is a climate change problem, and the world needs to take action. “Few people dispute that.” He also says he need s to pursue carbon capture and sotrage storage? and other means. “Thank you all very much,” he says, and leaves promptly.
10:57 – And with that, we’re off. We’ll be back tomorrow though, for PMQs. See you then.