Brown conference as-it-happened

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By Ian Dunt

10:27 - Well David Cameron's press conference has just ended, and journalists are hurrying across Westminster to get to Gordon Brown's 'red corner' conference by 11:00 GMT. With defence secretary Bob Ainsworth letting a May 6th election date slip over the weekend, could this be the day Brown announces the big day?

10:57 - We'll be watching out for any comments on the recovery from Brown. He'll be apprised of tomorrow's ONS stats, and will be very keen indeed to connect them to his economic agenda. Labour has been desperate to enter into an election campaign with recovery firmly in voters' minds.

11:00 - And we're off. Brown opens by discussing the crisis in the Northern Ireland talks. He also mentions the London conference on Afghanistan on Thursday. He appears confident and healthy; a bizarre reversal given Cameron appeared pale and tired this morning. That said he retains the strange habit he has of playing with the papers in front of him too often. He offers his condolences about the Lebanese plane crash this morning and says he's urgently trying to find out if any Brits were abroad. He says he's optimistic about the economic recovery but warns about volatile forces around the world. He says deficit reduction is vital but "we must do nothing this year" which could put recovery at risk. This is the view of the whole world and the IMF, he suggests.

11:04 - That's why the government is stepping up its unemployment strategy. It's all carrot and stick stuff - take the offer or lose your benefit. He won't tolerate a repeat of the 80s 'lost generation'. There are few countries which have done as much as the UK to stop unemployment rising. "Britain is too big a country to settle for small ambitions," Brown says. The central choice at the election will be about who can prevent joblessness. Labour plans will "expand the middle classes". The next two months will see low carbon and advanced manufacturing plans. Targeted investment funds will be announced tomorrow. The new industries will require new skills, and Labour will unleash a new wave of social mobility, he says. The plan to halve the deficit will be incorporated into each plan.

11:08 - He opens to questions. A journalist tells the PM about the Cameron press conference which took place a little earlier. Is Brown really saying he can turn things around just through cuts in low priority areas? Brown says his view is substantiated worldwide - you can't lower the stimulus too quickly. He suggests the shadow business secretary - Ken Clarke - agrees with him on "damaging and unsupportive cuts". Brown insists there's a consensus. He's coming out fighting on the stimulus and deficit plans - a pretty clear sign we'll be out of recession tomorrow. This feels like groundwork.

11:10 - What are the risks of not dealing with the deficit, given that economics isn't exactly science. Is this the great recession, as Cameron claims? Brown highlights how damaging the 1980s' recession was. "It is a matter of judgement," Brown says, and proceeds to cite his record on Northern Rock nationalisation, mortgage holders, special help to small businesses etc. "If it's a matter of judgement, my judgement was we had to act quickly... and I think I've been proved right." Brown looks sober and professional in a navy blue suit. He's on the same form which saw him win the last few PMQs, and this morning's press conferences are essentially a time-lagging PMQs session between Cameron and the prime minister.

11:13 - Brown says he "takes the tough decisions". He's asked who told him the Iraq war was legal and if top Foreign Office legal officials were wrong. Brown ducks out the questions by saying people have to watch the inquiry as it proceeds. Will the election be on May 6th? Brown says his defence secretary said he had to stop the Tories winning during the local elections, which take place on the same day. Big laughs all round, including from Brown.

11:30 - Brown is asked about Obama's banking plans. He brands the Tory proposals confused. He says the levy on wholesale lending are similar to the proposals he made at St Andrews, which were "controversial at the time". Our own Alex Stevenson asks the difference between Labour and the Tories on national security. Brown says Labour's trebled the budget since 2001, taken necessary legislative measures and been very clear on aviation security following the Detroit attack. "We have done everything we can to make the security arrangements of our country as strong as possible. The opposition cannot make a complaint of any substance about what we do," Brown replies. He reminds hacks that the defence budget was cut savagely by the last Conservative government.

11:15 - Is the Edlington case symptomatic of modern Britain? Brown says the event saddens and disgusts parents across the country. Presumably not just parents, but anyway. He says lessons have to be learnt, about social services and how they work, and family intervention. Breaking up families is necessary where violence "is not preventable". He insists this is a unique case. He says the parents may be liable to prosecution. The case is "extreme and sorrowful".

11:19 - The choice at the next election is about jobs and future prosperity. Brown reveals some irritation, rather abruptly. Perhaps it's because it's a Guardian journalist asking the question - the moment the paper gave up on him was the same moment he lost his best friend on Fleet Street. Voters care about their future in a competitive world, and removing the fiscal stimulus won't suddenly create growth. He insists again that he is on the side of the consensus.

11:21 - By appearing before the Iraq inquiry, isn't he risking putting Iraq at the centre of the general election? No, because he stands by all the decisions he has taken, Brown argues. Not just in the build up and execution, but also when removing troops from Iraq. He says "I'm very happy to appear" too many times to be remotely convincing. Another question on the arthritis drug (mentioned at the Cameron conference) sees the PM insists the rules for Nice have been changed so they must move forward as quickly as possible. He says he'll ensure the full investigation into the drug takes place.

11:25 - How will the Thursday conference ensure Karzai abides by Western demands? Anything that suggests Afghanistan can't respond to its corruption problem must be tackled. Karzai will announce further options at the conference. On Northern Ireland, what chances are there of a deal? Brown has been talking regularly with people over the weekend. Discussions are taking place in London and Northern Ireland today. The central issue of finance has made good progress, but more talks are needed on who holds the ministry of justice. Brown says he's confident all the issues are solvable. With goodwill, "we'll see a considerable amount of progress over the next week."

11:34 - Will the Edlington brothers have their anonymity secured for life? That's a matter for a judge, Brown says dismissively. He talks about the point where the state intervenes in family life, and says it's when violence reaches a certain level. A family engulfed in violence is a family that is damaged and damages other people. He says "the rush to generalisations" does no credit to the people of Edlington or Britain. The case isn't typical. He cites the Haiti appeal and Comic Relief as signs of a society which is made of goodness and compassion, not such horror and violence. Interesting little aside there.

11:37 - Brown warns banks about relapsing into how they behaved before the financial crisis. He says the debate must continue but says his proposal about an international levy is gaining currency. He also backs his argument that one country adopting a policy will see the banks look overseas, and that's why we need international action. A journalist asks about reports of a plot to hijack a plane in India and crash it into a British city. Also, what can India do in Afghanistan? Brown says it has a big role to play. He also says the decision to raise the security alert was based on many reasons. He insists the UK is vigilant against the terrorist threat.

11:42 - "We are both going to be put off course by people insisting we have to cut the deficit today," Brown says. Those who got it wrong earlier are getting it wrong again. He clearly doesn't want to use the words 'Cameron' or 'Tories'. Would Brown support a TV debate between Peter Mandelson and Kenneth Clarke? He suggests he would and insists the next few weeks will show Labour has policies and Cameron doesn't. "They produce policy documents whose one characteristic is that they contain no policy," Brown continues. He again concentrates on the married couples' allowance - he clearly feels it's a weak point.

11:46 - As Brown talks Martin McGuinness is holding a press conference in Northern Ireland. We'll bring you any news from that as it comes. Brown is talking about his pet international levy again. The US has its own tax, he admits.

11:49 - Is Brown in favour of abolishing the state retirement age? Brown says he wants to wait until the end of the review into it. More on Edlington: what faith can people have that lessons will be learned when the people who made mistakes are not identified and therefore can't be held accountable. Brown says not publishing the full review means people can speak frankly. It is not a criminal proceeding, he says. Over in Stormont, McGuinness is making a tough statement saying he is still waiting for the DUP to deliver.

11:51 - On the threat level: with the Yemen, Afghanistan conference and Blair's appearance in front of the Iraq inquiry - can the public be assured no plot is planned for this week? Brown explains that the new alert level indicates an attack is not imminent. He repeats that the threat level takes into account "a number of factors". He won't point to specific instances.

11:53 - Would the UK government support the idea of a Taliban political party? Brown says he supports a vibrant Afghan democracy, based on political parties, but a lot of work has to take place before we get there. In Stormont, McGuinness has issued a warning about devolution. Tough body language, tough speaking - McGuinness appeared frustrated and angry; it looks like Sinn Fein is reaching the end of its patience. Back to Brown.

11:57 - There's no danger that the Afghanistan campaign will be under-financed. Brown is told he sells himself as a man willing to cut. Where will the cuts fall? Brown says he's announced how he will raise the money in various ways. He says the idea the deficit reduction plan is not detailed is a "myth". Previous elections were about less spending, but this one is about where jobs are coming from in the future.

11:59 - Is Brown concerned about huge debts and lack of transparency in our large football clubs? "There is an issue here," Brown says. The debt has become so severe it is a threat to the club. Football clubs often don't have the income to combat the leverage they have. "The management of football clubs have to look very seriously" at the issue. It's an issue for the clubs though, not government.

12:01 - More on Edlington. We're all shocked, Brown says. We will look at what lessons can be learned, and when action takes place. But the purpose of the serious case review is to learn lessons, not for front page headlines. Brow highlights how much support there is for the current status of the reviews, including from the NSPCC. "I hope people will look at the arguments that have been put by the NSPCC," Brown says. "People want to jump to a simple answer" but we need to be more sophisticated about it. "Look behind what is happening here, rather than the sensationalism of publicity." The debate is moving beyond the interests of the children. Brown is looking increasingly tired and irritated. It's a long conference.

12:06 - Does the British government have faith in the Yemeni government? Brown says the UK is a major donor to the country. He tries to strike an upbeat note about it. More questions on Yemen. Will the surge be undermined by terrorist mobility? Brown answers somewhat angrily and thumps the lectern as he speaks. The dispersal of Al-Qaida is a measure of Western success. "It's obvious they would look to other areas around the world to plot and to organise," he says. He's still hitting that lectern. And with that he packs it in - it looks like he couldn't get away any quicker. Well we didn't get any confirmation of the election date but I think we can safely presume good things about the ONS figures tomorrow. See you on Wednesday for our PMQs coverage.


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