Brown reeling after conference backlash

By Ian Dunt

A set of five gruelling and sometimes bad-tempered media appearances left the prime minister gasping for breath today.

Timed to celebrate his well-received speech to conference yesterday, Gordon Brown was instead left to bat away suggestions he would be sunk by the Sun’s decision to retract its support from Labour this morning.

In a headline designed to bring up memories of the paper’s famous 1992 headline reading “If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights” the paper put an editorial on its front page stating it was ending its support for the Labour party.

Mr Brown tried to brush the issue aside in an interview with GMTV this morning.

“Newspapers are entitled to their opinions,” he said.

“Obviously you want newspapers to be for you. But I’ve got an old-fashioned view. You look to newspapers for news, not propaganda. I don’t think editorials will decide elections.”

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman responded angrily to the editorial this morning, as she addressed the party conference.

“I know we’re all angry about the Sun today,” she told party members in the hall.

“The nearest thgeir political analysis gets to women’s rights is ‘Page 3’,” the equality minister continued.

“Don’t get bitter. Get back out there. We are the underdog. But this underdog is biting back.”

Rumours have circulated around Brighton, where the conference is being held, that the Sun’s decision was taken as a punishment for the fact no mention was made of a televised debate in Mr Brown’s speech last night.

Many media outlets, including, carried predictions a passage would confirm he would appear with David Cameron and Nick Clegg in three televised debates ahead of the general election, but the speech contained no mention of the idea.

The campaign for a debate was started by Sky News, also owned by Sun proprietor Rupert Murdoch.

This morning, Mr Brown seemed to suggest he had decided whether he would participate in a debate, but would not confirm it at the present moment.

“You do not rule that sort of thing out but, to be honest, the first thing to do is to explain to people how we are taking the country through this recession, the big decisions we are having to make, why they have been the right decisions, why other countries have followed we are doing and why we can guarantee them we are doing more about jobs and helping home owners than any other country in the world,” he said.

BBC Radio Five Live host Nicky Campbell suggested this might be because of his infamous dithering, to which the prime minister angrily responded: “I’m not. I never do, by the way.”

Mr Campbell then pursued an interesting line of questioning, asking Mr Brown if he believed in God.

“I’m a member of the Church of Scotland,” Mr Brown responded. “My father was a minister. My personal views about religion are my own but clearly I’m a member of the church.”

Mr Campbell then asked him again if he believed in God, to which he replied: “I do. Indeed I do.”

Following comments from the prime minister about his announcement yesterday that teenaged parents receiving benefits would be placed in supervised housing, Mr Brown was asked if he believed teenagers should not be having sex.

“I’m not here to lecture individuals about their private lives,” he replied.

Mr Brown also confirmed this morning he would soon be undertaking a tour of British regions.