Prime Minister warns of Conservative threat to economy

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Indy Politics

The Prime Minister today seized on new economic growth figures to claim that the recovery from recession was under way and would be threatened by a Conservative victory at next month's election.

Gordon Brown welcomed the 0.2% rise in output in the last quarter, which he said meant an extra £600 million was pumped into the economy.

He repeated his warning that the Tories were planning to cut £6 billion from public spending, warning of the "danger" to jobs and services.

Mr Brown told a press conference in London that the Conservative plans were a "death sentence" for thousands of jobs, hitting teachers, police and other workers.

Mr Brown, fresh from last night's second televised leaders' debate, said there was only one political leader with the experience, judgment and record who could be trusted with the economic recovery.

"That is why I will fight as if my life depended on it to get a majority Labour government and one the country needs to take the economy forward.

"As today's GDP figures show, the recovery is definitely under way. The Conservatives are a risk to that recovery," he said.

Mr Brown warned that if the UK suffered a double dip recession, jobs and businesses would be lost.

The Prime Minister pointed out that Government measures such as the VAT cut, the car scrappage scheme and job creation programmes had all helped the economy grow.

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said the election would be "make or break" for the economy, warning this was no time for a "novice" to be running the country.

The Prime Minister faced further questions today about Conservative claims that Labour had spread "fear and smears" by publishing leaflets detailing Tory policies.

Conservative activists handed out a dossier to journalists attending today's press conference which was headed Labour's Shameful Lies.

The Tories said Labour was wrongly claiming the Conservatives would scrap TV licences for the over 75s, cut free bus passes for pensioners and cut pensions.

Mr Brown repeatedly warned that thousands of jobs would be lost under the Conservatives' proposals, adding: "The Conservative view has always been that unemployment is a price worth paying."

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson paid tribute to the Prime Minister's handling of the economic crisis, insisting his "grip and focus has not faltered for one moment, for one day".

He contrasted that with the Tories, dubbing Mr Cameron and shadow chancellor George Osborne "a couple of kids in short trousers ... running around saying Britain is broke..."

Accusing them of "irresponsible political opportunism", Lord Mandelson said: "They never stop talking Britain down. It's pathetic and it's desperate."

Planned Tory "giveaways", he said, amounted to £38 billion, or £1,500 for every family in the country.

"If you vote Tory in May, you will be stung in June," he warned.

In a question and answer session, Mr Brown was repeatedly challenged over Labour's claim in election leaflets that the Tories would cut free eye tests and prescriptions for the elderly.

"I didn't authorise the leaflets," he insisted. "But we're right to ask the question."

Mr Brown said the commitment to retain them was missing from the Tory manifesto, and Mr Cameron had been forced to change tack as a result of "panic".

He added: "This has had to be forced out of the Conservatives. They haven't been straight with the British people."

Mr Brown said there were "holes" in the Conservative manifesto which had to be "exposed".

Challenged about the prospects of a hung Parliament, he said: "I'm fighting for a majority Labour government.

"I'm not going to take the people for granted. I'm not going to start speculating about what happens before people give their verdict."

Asked why, in last night's TV debate, the Prime Minister failed to say he agreed with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, as he did last week, Mr Brown said it was because he did not agree with him on Trident or an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

He said it was the "height of naivety" for the Lib Dems to suggest you could give up Britain's independent nuclear deterrent just as North Korea and Iran could get theirs. "That's why I said 'get real'."

Questioned about the latest GDP figure, Mr Brown said it was "exactly what we predicted" in the Budget.

The reason the recovery had been "slow" was that retail sales had been hit by the reduction in VAT being withdrawn and the "terrible" winter weather.

"It shows how fragile the recovery is."

Asked about Labour's current poor poll showing, the Prime Minister said: "I've always said the election will be decided in the last few days. It's wide open."

Voters had had "the hype" and were now looking at the central issues, like public services and the economy.

Mr Brown stressed again that he was not in politics for the money or the status.

"I'm only in politics if I can make a difference and make things better for our country. If I cease to be able to do that, I go."