Brown tackles 'rumour and gossip'

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Gordon Brown today insisted he was the right person to guide Britain through difficult economic times, as he continued his effort to reassert his authority in the wake of the worst weeks of his premiership.

In a series of broadcast interviews and a high-profile press conference at 10 Downing Street, Mr Brown repeatedly stressed his determination to take decisions in Britain's long-term interests, even if they prove unpopular in the short term.

He dismissed speculation over possible challenges to his position as "rumour and gossip" which would not distract him from "getting on with the job" of being Prime Minister.

Labour's drubbing at this month's local elections and a series of poor poll ratings ahead of next week's Crewe and Nantwich by-election have led to open discussion of whether Mr Brown will stay on to lead the party into the coming General Election.

But he told his press conference: "I'm getting on with the job. I'm getting on with the job of building for the long-term and taking sometimes unpopular decisions which are necessary so we can show the country that we are preparing this country - which has a huge and magnificent future ahead of us if we take the right long-term decisions.

"I am determined not to be diverted from taking these long-term decisions."

Mr Brown acknowledged there were "many people" in his Cabinet who were capable of being Prime Minister.

But he added: "Of course they are capable of doing the job, but I'm doing the job...

"I was elected unopposed and I think that people understand that we are getting on with the job and I am not going to be distracted by this gossip."

Mr Brown said that Britain's economic challenges stemmed in large part from the credit crunch resulting from events in America and from higher oil and food prices caused by higher demand from emerging Asian giants China and India.

Countries all over the world were facing the same problems, but Britain was better placed than most because of its record over the past decade of low debt and low unemployment, he said.

He made clear that he believes action on the international level to pressure the oil-producing countries of Opec to increase fuel supply and cut the price of oil from its record level of 125 US dollars a barrel could have an impact which would ease the burden on British consumers.

And he said that shared equity schemes to help first-time buyers announced in yesterday's draft legislative programme would provide support for the troubled housing market.

Mr Brown acknowledged that mistakes had been made over the abolition of the 10p tax rate, but said that the £2.7 billion package announced by Chancellor Alistair Darling on Tuesday would not only correct them but also inject money to boost the economy, in a similar way as has been done by the American and Spanish administrations.

Mr Brown said: "I feel I am in the right position to be able to sort out the problems that we have now. These are problems that are essentially generated by the credit crunch coming out of America and inflationary pressures coming out of the rest of the world.

"These are issues that all countries have to deal with. I think because of my experience I am in a good position to deal with these issues."

He added: "If you talk to anybody in the country, their first concern is the cost of household goods - what is in their shopping basket, what they have to pay at the petrol station.

"These are events due to world circumstances and we need a Government that is capable to deal with these problems, take them and address them.

"That's precisely what I am doing. I am going to continue to do that job that is right for the country."

Mr Brown insisted he would continue to take difficult decisions which are in the long-term interests of the country, such as supporting nuclear energy, requiring incapacity benefit claimants to undergo medical tests to see if they can work and building 3 million new homes.

"I am going to continue with the preparations for the future of this country," he told the press conference.

"This year we have made long-term decisions about nuclear energy, climate change, transport infrastructure, planning and housing and in almost all these decisions we were opposed by the Conservatives and the Liberals.

"These are the long-term decisions. Now we are about to take further long-term decisions, not necessarily immediately popular, but the right long-term decisions for the country."