Brown will not quit if Labour loses seat

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Gordon Brown was forced to defend his leadership yesterday as Labour finally launched its campaign in the Glasgow East by-election, the result of which could determine his fate.

The Prime Minister insisted that he would not step down, declaring that he remained the best person to lead Britain through the economic downturn.

Asked whether he would stand down if he became a liability to the Labour Party, Mr Brown told the BBC: "I believe that the British economy is in a better position than most economies so I am going to take the British economy through these difficulties.

"If I thought I wasn't the right person I wouldn't have stood for leader. The test of leadership is taking people through difficult times. Every country in the world is facing a difficult economic time because of what has happened in oil prices and food prices. I think I am the right person to take people through these difficult times."

Mr Brown will face intense pressure to stand down as Prime Minister if Labour loses its 13,507 majority in Glasgow East – normally one of its safest seats. Labour MPs believe a defeat in Glasgow would spark a leadership crisis, even though the result will come after MPs have left Westminster for their long summer break.

The by-election was triggered by the resignation of the Labour MP David Marshall, who announced he was standing down for health reasons.

Margaret Curran, who was selected as Labour's contender for the seat after a weekend of turmoil as the party searched for a candidate, began campaigning in the city yesterday and was immediately engulfed in questions about whether she would combine being an MP with her job as a member of the Scottish Parliament, where she acts as the party's health spokesman. Labour has repeatedly criticised Alex Salmond for combining a seat in Westminster with his job as Scotland's First Minister.

Ms Curran, who was chosen on Monday night after the previous front-runner for the Labour nomination pulled out for family reasons, insisted yesterday that "the Labour fightback starts right here, right now". She said: "I fundamentally believe that in the east end of Glasgow we must make sure that their issues re represented in Westminster."

John Mason, the Scottish National Party candidate, insisted that "people in Glasgow East deserve a full-time MP who will provide a strong voice in London for this constituency".

Mr Mason, a Glasgow city councillor, added: "Margaret Curran needs to decide, does she want to be an MP for Glasgow East or an MSP?

"Before anyone even considers voting Labour they should think very carefully, do they want a full-time representative arguing for lower fuel and energy costs or a part-timer sitting quietly on Gordon Brown's back benches?"

He shrugged aside attacks on Mr Salmond's two jobs, insisting that he had been "upfront" about his plans at the Scottish Parliament elections, but he accepted Ms Curran's call for a live television debate.

Michael Moore, acting leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, also criticised Ms Curran's position as he launched the campaign for the party's candidate, Ian Robertson, declaring: "Ian Robertson is going for one job, not two as Margaret Curran is."

Ms Curran said the question of her two jobs would be resolved "in the short term" if she was victorious. She said: "If you want a job done, ask a busy woman. If I'm that busy woman, I will do it."

Who is Margaret Curran?

Margaret Curran has been described by her Glasgow East opponents as Labour's "fifth choice" candidate. But the 49-year-old has a reputation as a formidable political operator. Ms Curran cut her political teeth in Glasgow University's Labour club in the late-1970s. She was a community worker, then lectured at the University of Strathclyde and was elected to Holyrood in 1999 to represent Glasgow Baillieston. She was tipped to succeed Jack McConnell as Labour leader in Scotland, but decided not to stand against Wendy Alexander. Contesting Glasgow East could be wise: her Holyrood constituency will be merged with another before the next Scottish elections, leaving one of two Labour MSPs without a seat.