British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has found himself in trouble this week after a comment he made while leaving a pre-election meeting with Rochdale constituent Gillian Duffy.
While riding away in his car after the chat, during which 75-year-old Duffy made comments alluding to an adverse fiscal impact caused by Eastern European immigrants to Britain, Gordon Brown forgot he was still wearing a broadcast microphone, and is heard telling an aide that the arranged meeting was “a disaster” because “she was just this bigoted woman.”
The Prime Minister issued an apology, saying simply “I do apologise if I’ve said anything that has been hurtful.”
During the ill-fated meeting with the staunch labour voter, Gordon Brown obviously steered Mrs Duffy away from the subject of immigration. Duffy, echoing sentiments oft heard in Labour heartland across Northern Britain, asked “but all these Eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?”
Brown’s response to this at the time was swift, and to the point, as the Prime Minister pointed out that while many immigrants are coming in from Europe, many British people are also going in the opposite direction. One would assume Gordon Brown is the more likely of the pair to have access to such information.
However, the media furore over Brown’s overheard comments are likely to hinge around his apparent dis-ingenuity: at the end of the meeting, Gordon Brown complimented Mrs Duffy, and said it was “very nice to meet you” immediately before getting into his car and telling an aide the meeting had gone badly because “she was just this bigoted woman.”
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, voters such as Mrs Duffy expose the present dichotomy Labour find themselves in: many of Labour’s traditional supporters might hold similar views, which the Prime Minister clearly does not share. In taking middle class ground in 1997, New Labour also effectively disenfranchised such voters, something which could well be responsible for a perceived shift to the right in such constituencies, as borne out by a swing to the BNP in recent European elections.
Gordon Brown’s major crime, it would seem, is not that he calls a bigoted woman “a bigoted woman”, it is that he will not say so openly, for fear of losing traditional Labour voters.