Brown says economy like injured soccer player

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Monday the economy must be treated as carefully as injured England international soccer star Wayne Rooney to avoid the risk of falling back into recession.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown signs a giant England soccer shirt in the garden of 10 Downing Street in London March 24, 2010. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/pool

Brown, a keen sports fan, seized on the footballing comparison to explain to voters his government’s decision to delay for 12 months the cuts in public spending needed to tackle a 163 billion pound budget deficit.

The Conservatives, ahead in opinion polls, say they will reduce public spending by 6 billion pounds this year to start reducing the deficit if they win an election expected on May 6.

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 in South Africa this June.

“I believe that securing the recovery is the biggest issue facing our country. That means we shouldn’t take money out of the economy this year,” Brown said in a video message on his Downing Street website, a day before he is expected to confirm the election date.

“Let me explain it a bit like this -- 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.

“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.

“So with the economy --- we’re not back to full fitness, we need to maintain support. If you withdraw support too early, we’ll risk doing more damage.

“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.”

Chancellor Alistair Darling does not plan to start cutting government departmental spending until 2011, arguing that the economy is still too fragile after emerging from its worst recession for generations.

Brown said Britain risked falling back into recession, “if we try and jump off the treatment table as if nothing had happened.”