UPDATE 1-Brown: UK economy like injured soccer star Rooney

Mon Apr 5, 2010 5:44am EDT

* Says economy needs recovery time like Wayne Rooney's foot

* Cutting public spending this year could risk 2nd recession

* Attacks opposition plans day before expected election call

(Adds details, context)

By Tim Castle

LONDON, April 5 (Reuters) - Like injured England soccer star Wayne Rooney, Britain's economy must be nurtured carefully back to full health and Conservative plans to cut spending risk damaging a fragile recovery, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

Brown, who is expected to call on Tuesday for an election to be held on May 6, seized on the soccer analogy to explain why his Labour government is against public spending cuts this year in spite of a 163 billion pound ($248 billion) budget deficit.

The opposition Conservatives, ahead in opinion polls, say they will reduce spending by six billion pounds this year if they win the election. Failing to act, they say, would endanger Britain's top credit rating and drive up interest rates. [ID:nLDE62S0VE]

Manchester United striker Rooney, recovering from damaged ankle ligaments, is top scorer in this season's English premier league and carries the hopes of England fans in the soccer World Cup, which kicks off in South Africa in June. [ID:nLDE6301QU]

Like Rooney's coaches, Brown said, policymakers should not force the economy to "jump off the treatment table as if nothing had happened.

"I know Wayne Rooney's just had an injury to his foot and I know everyone will be hoping he's fit for the World Cup," Brown said in a video message on his Downing Street website.

"But after an injury you need support to recover, you need support to get back to match fitness, you need support to get back your full strength and then go on to lift the World Cup."

MARKETS SCEPTICAL

Labour has pledged to halve the deficit over four years and the Conservatives say they will do more than that without saying exactly how much more. Financial markets have treated both plans with scepticism because they lack specifics.

Brown is an experienced policymaker but lacks his predecessor Tony Blair's charm. He has faced ridicule for previous attempts to depict himself as an ordinary guy.

But the Rooney comparison may hit home with many voters who feel disenfranchised by politics following a parliamentary expenses scandal and sidelined by academic arguments about budget deficits and credit ratings.

Brown said the economy was "not back to full fitness" and withdrawing support too early was risky. "That's why I think it's wrong to say that we should take six or seven billion pounds out of the economy this year," he said.

The Conservatives had worked hard to soothe market fears about the deficit before weak economic data forced them to soften their rhetoric.

Now markets are most concerned that the election could result in a hung parliament, where no one party has overall control, hindering efforts to deal with the deficit.

- To see the latest Reuters stories on the UK election, click on [ID:nUKVOTES]

- To see the latest stories about the UK, click on [TOP/GB] or visit link.reuters.com/quq44j for multimedia coverage

- See us online at

here

- Follow us on Twitter twitter.com/reuters_co_uk (Additional reporting by Matt Falloon; editing by Noah Barkin)

FILED UNDER: