Gordon Brown's press conference -- live blog

Live coverage of the PM's regular press conference

10:46am David Cameron has had his monthly outing in front of the press. Now it's Gordon Brown's turn.

Follow The Staggers from 11am for full coverage.

11:01am Brown begins with Afghanistan. He says the London conference will see new Nato and Afghan troop levels announced.

11:03am He says he's confident the economy is emerging from recession but warns that the UK and the world economy remain fragile. We must not cut the deficit this year in a way that threatens growth and jobs, he says.

11:04am Brown announces that 100,000 unemployed young people are now eligible for a guaranteed job or training programme. He says they must accept the jobs on offer or risk losing their benefits.

11:06am He says that the government's economic plans will "expand the middle class not squeeze it".

11:08am The questions begin with Sky's Adam Boulton. He asks Brown if he really believes he can trim the Budget deficit yet avoid cuts to "front-line services". Brown says that the biggest threat to the recovery is not continuing with the action the government is taking, the reverse of Cameron's position.

11:10am Nick Robinson asks if the PM can be honest about the risks of not tackling the deficit. Brown says his judgement has been proved right throughout the economic crisis. He says he is right not to withdraw fiscal stimulus now.

11:14am After Bob Ainsworth let the date slip yesterday, Brown is asked if he can confirm that the election will be on 6 May. He replies by joking that Ainsworth suggested we need to prevent the Conservatives from winning the "council elections" (also on 6 May).

11:19am Nick Watt from the Guardian asks Brown if he agrees with Alistair Darling's statement that cutting the Budget deficit will lead to the toughest spending round in 20 years. Brown insists that, unlike some other countries, his government has already made key decisions on tax rises and restructuring the economy.

11:21am Brown is asked if he is taking a big risk by giving evidence to the Iraq inquiry before the election. He replies that he isn't, "because I stand by all the actions I have taken". He adds that he welcomes the chance to explain the decisions the government took.

11:26am Brown is asked how the Afghanistan conference will persuade President Karzai to commit to specific measures to tackle corruption. He says that action is being taken through the introduction of an anti-corruption task force on which external advisers will sit.

He says the coalition's strategy is to "split the Taliban" by persuading mercenaries to leave the group.

11:30am The PM is asked how would he characterise the differences between Labour and the Conservatives on national security. He says the government has trebled the national security budget since 2001 and has taken legislative action to respond to the terrorist threat, though he concedes this has been "controversial". He adds that the defence budget was cut "savagely" under the last Tory government.

11:37am Bloomberg asks Brown for his response to Goldman Sachs's decision to the cap the pay of its partners at £1m. He says there is a big danger that the banks want to return to the "bad old ways", with rewards unrelated to risk.

11:41am Channel 4's Gary Gibbon asks if windfall money from lower benefit payouts will go towards deficit reduction. Brown says that the government is prepared to make "difficult decisions" and cut the deficit, but it will not be distracted by people "shouting" that we need to cut the deficit today.

11:44am Brown says that the Tories produce policy documents whose one characteristic is that they "contain no new policy".

11:46am Asked if he supports the campaign to save general election night, Brown says that the timing of the count is a matter for returning officers.

11:49am Brown refuses to confirm whether he supports abolishing the law allowing firms to force people to retire at 65.

11:56am Asked about the defence budget, Brown says there is "no danger" the Afghanistan campaign will be underfinanced.

11:57am Pressed on where spending cuts will fall, Brown says that due to uncertainty over economic growth it would be premature to allocate money to departments now.

12:00 noon A rare question on climate change. Brown is asked if some of the mistakes made by the IPCC undermine attempts to secure international agreement on climate change. He replies: "No, because I think the academic evidence as a whole leads to one conclusion: that we need to tackle climate change."

12:04pm A Middle Eastern journalist asks if Brown believes the Yemeni government is committed to tackling terrorism. Brown says that he believes the government can be trusted.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.