Page last updated at 16:46 GMT, Monday, 1 September 2008 17:46 UK

Brown defends 'resilient' record

Gordon Brown, pictured at the EU summit on Georgia
Mr Brown was speaking at an EU summit

Gordon Brown has defended his record on tackling the economic downturn, saying the government was proving "resilient in... dealing with these problems".

He contrasted that with "previous governments that could not manage a way through... difficulties successfully".

The prime minister's comments at an EU summit followed denials of a rift with Chancellor Alistair Darling after his outspoken weekend newspaper interview.

Mr Darling said the economic challenges were the greatest in 60 years.

I don't think that he would ever do anything so crazy, destructive and divisive
Schools Secretary Ed Balls asked if David Miliband was trying to get Mr Brown's job

Those comments, to the Guardian, have threatened to derail Mr Brown's attempts to move on from speculation over his future.

Asked if he agreed with Mr Darling's view of the economic downturn, Mr Brown said: "There are unique circumstances with the trebling of oil prices. That has not happened previously - and of course with the credit crunch.

"But we are showing that, unlike previous governments that could not manage a way through these difficulties successfully... we are resilient in the way we are dealing with these problems.

"And I think you'll find that the actions we have taken and the actions we are taking are actions that are designed to help British people get through what is a difficult world economic downturn."

'Business of government'

Mr Brown is expected to unveil a package of reforms on Tuesday aimed at helping homeowners and the property market.

That is seen as a key part of attempts to boost his fortunes, after his opinion poll slump and pre-holiday speculation that Foreign Secretary David Miliband was positioning himself for a leadership challenge.

Mr Brown again dismissed claims of tension with Mr Miliband as the two men attended an EU summit on Georgia, saying that they were "getting on with the business of government".

And Schools Secretary Ed Balls, a long-standing Brownite, said he did not think Mr Miliband was "crazy" enough to try and take Mr Brown's job.

He told Channel 4 News: "I've known him (Mr Miliband) for very many years and I know that he is a sensible, rational, sane politician, and a good guy.

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"I don't think that he would ever do anything so crazy, destructive and divisive, and that is why I am totally confident that's not what he was doing."

Meanwhile, Conservative leader David Cameron described Mr Darling's warning as "extraordinary".

The Tory leader told BBC Radio 4's Today: "I think, right as we stand at the moment, I think it is too difficult to say whether this is the worst situation for 60 years.

"I think it's extraordinary that the chancellor said it, because - remember - a chancellor of the exchequer has got to think, not only 'I must tell the truth at all times' but also 'I must use my words carefully, so that I don't actually create a situation that's even worse, that creates a crisis of confidence'.

"It's an extraordinary situation when you've got a chancellor of the exchequer effectively talking the economy right down."

'Careful but responsible'

The prime minister's official spokesman said Mr Darling made his own decisions on what access to give to the media, and that Number 10 had not been informed in advance about the interview.

The spokesman said it would expect to be informed if the interview related to serious policy issues but this interview was for "a background profile piece."

Ahead of the expected government announcement on housing, Mr Cameron said he wanted to see help with stamp duty and for those facing repossession.

Nick Robinson
Mr Darling's assertion of independence, just like that of David Miliband in July, now makes the cost of a reshuffle that much higher for Gordon Brown
Nick Robinson
BBC political editor

But Mr Cameron warned that large-scale attempts to refloat the mortgage market could be "quite dangerous" and said his party would take a "sceptical, careful but responsible" look at the package of measures.

He said that the part of the mortgage market which had suffered the worst problems was where people wanted to borrow 90% or more of the property's value.

He questioned whether it was advisable to kick-start this part of the mortgage market while there are predictions of further property price falls.

Mr Cameron's comments came as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said the government needed to take "significant and decisive action" to help revitalise the housing market, with housing sales now at a 30-year low.

The Bank of England figures show the number of new mortgages approved for home buyers fell in July to just 33,000, a 71% drop since last year.

Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman Vince Cable said: "The housing market is clearly plummeting. This drop in mortgage lending is due, in some part, to Alistair Darling's dithering over an irresponsible stamp duty 'holiday'.

"With the housing market in freefall, it is up to the government to provide the parachute for families facing homelessness. Instead all we get is hopeless indecision."


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