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Gordon Brown's campaign disaster

In recent days, there were signs that Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labor Party was creeping up in the polls in Britain’s election. Then on Wednesday came what is now being called “bigotgate.” Here are the facts, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph:

The Prime Minister has been overheard describing an exchange he had with a female voter in Rochdale as a "disaster", calling her a "bigoted woman".

Gillian Duffy, a 66-year-old widow, told Gordon Brown that she was concerned about immigration from Eastern Europe.

In the video, Mr Brown can be heard responding to her and appears to end the conversation amicably, telling her she came from a "good family".

But as he got into his car and sped away with his microphone still on, he can be heard berating his staff for allowing the encounter.

He told an aide: "That was a disaster. Should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that?"

When the aide said they did not know who was responsible, the Prime Minister snapped: "ridiculous"....

The aide asked what Mrs Duffy had said, and Mr Brown replied: "Everything. She's just a sort of bigoted woman who says she used to be Labour."

The timing for Brown could not have been worse. He needs to end strong, and tonight’s final debate of the campaign is on economics, his strongest suit. But going into the debate, much of the media talk is about this single incident -- and the astonishing fact that Brown did not seem to know he was still miked, an elementary campaign error.

One of the best analyses I’ve seen is from Steve Richard in the Independent. It’s tough but accurate:

Elections are based on an illusion that political leaders like and respect every single voter they meet. Voters are allowed to harangue leaders, but never the other way around. In private, no doubt leaders across the world despair of voters that they meet, but they never do so in public. In being recorded unaware by a microphone Brown has smashed the illusion into pieces. The spell is broken. When he meets voters in the future they will wonder what he is really thinking. . . .

The more likely consequence is a further deflation of confidence in Labour's entire campaign. Brown will be even more self-conscious when meeting "real" voters. Apparently he will continue to do so. The episode also distracts attention from his preparations for tonight's debate. Yesterday afternoon Brown was supposed to be in a rehearsal and instead was in Ms Duffy's home in Rochdale, a surreal twist. Still, Brown was over-rehearsed in the first two debates. Perhaps he will loosen up a bit if he has spent most of his time in the build-up apologising to a single voter.

The most dangerous element of this sequence for Labour was Ms Duffy's parting words. She declared that she was not planning to vote Labour at the election. Of all the moods whirling around this election the anti-Labour one is strongest. Those who wallow in disillusionment suddenly have a heroine.

Jonathan Freedland also has a sharp take in the Guardian:

The pressure was always going to be on Gordon Brown today. That much was clear from the diary weeks ago, the moment 29 April was scheduled for the last TV debate, focusing on Brown's strongest suit, the economy. According to Labour’s masterplan, tonight would be the night when the prime minister would close the deal, bringing wavering voters round by persuading them that, whatever his flaws, he was the man to secure Britain's recovery.

Well, at least one part of that plan has come good: the pressure is indeed all on Brown today. But not in a way anyone foresaw, least of all Labour's own top brass. Instead the PM wakes up this morning hoping to survive a hurricane he unleashed on himself the day before.

It is a mammoth challenge. Not only must he concentrate on his debate prep - honing his arguments so that he improves on the third place the polls awarded him for his last two performances – he must also somehow close down the tale of Gillian Duffy and the mother of all gaffes he committed yesterday.

Somehow he needs to get people to move on from his branding of the widowed pensioner – who used to work with disabled children, for heaven's sake – as a "bigoted woman". That won't be easy. It's all over today's front pages and will be aired again and again on the morning radio phone-ins. Glumly, Brown will know that "bigotgate" will dominate the news agenda until 8.30pm tonight, when the debate begins.

All along, I have thought that Brown would end this campaign well and pull Labor close enough to the Conservatives to win the most seats and possibly avoid a third-place finish. This gaffe could close down that opportunity. Brown always had to do well in today’s debate. Now he has to be brilliant. We’ll see what happens.

(And, yes, this incident shows that the United States is not the only country in which immigration is a potentially explosive issue.)

By E.J. Dionne  | April 29, 2010; 10:11 AM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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It's too bad his comments have been taken as such a negative by so many. I thought the old woman sounded pretty bigoted too.

Posted by: TERI48 | April 29, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

E.J., thanks for posting this. I just posted something about this on my blog:

Two somewhat incompatible things struck me -- this actually was quite revelatory of Brown's character, and it's quite unfair to judge him by this...

Posted by: BradWarthen | April 29, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Poor Gordon Brown. He is a hapless victim of chicanery on Wall Street and the lapdogging on Iraq by the former prime minister for George Bush. And of telling the truth in private (or so he thought) about a bigoted lady.

Posted by: DWSouthern | April 29, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

More proof liberalism is a mental disorder. There is no way to assimilate and produce jobs for an unchecked flow of immigrants. That is the recipe for disaster in a welfare state like England. Liberals cower at the fear of being labeled a bigot and use it as a club on those they disagree with. They have poisoned the discussion to such an extent that immigration can never be dealt with in a rational way.

Posted by: peterg73 | April 29, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

So does all this mean that those of us who are concerned about immigration (like this woman) aren't bigots after all? I thought we were? What a relief. I'm still concerned about immigration but I can be so with a clear conscience.

Posted by: martintomsal | April 29, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Brown obviously spends too much time reading/viewing American media too much.

Over exposure to WashPost, NYTs and network TV produces an uncontrollable impulse to call all people who disagree with you bigots.

How was poor Mr. Brown supposed to know voters don't like being called bigots?

Posted by: jfv123 | April 29, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

So does all this mean that those of us who are concerned about immigration (like this woman) aren't bigots after all? I thought we were? What a relief. I'm still concerned about immigration but I can be so with a clear conscience.

Posted by: martintomsal | April 29, 2010 12:41 PM |

Oh no, martintomsal. It only means that columnists like Dionne can wag a finger in two directions and see no contradiction.

Posted by: semitone | April 29, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

If the woman made bigoted comments and Brown called her out why isn't the focus on her "bigoted" comments instead of the fact her called her a bigot.

Posted by: rlj1 | April 29, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

We really have alot in common with the brits, their libs paint their adversaries as racists as well !

Posted by: billbrann | April 29, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Let me guess, their healthcare system is deluged with non-paying patients, the welfare system is inundated with claimants who have never paid in, crime is escalated by foriegn born...yep...we have that problem in Texas...I guess Gordon wouldn't like me either.

Posted by: billbrann | April 29, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

So does all this mean that those of us who are concerned about immigration (like this woman) aren't bigots after all? I thought we were? What a relief. I'm still concerned about immigration but I can be so with a clear conscience.

Posted by: martintomsal

Maybe, maybe not.

Pretty much everyone is concerned about immigration for one reason or another. Not everyone is a bigot. Some people are bigots.

When I hear concerns about immigrants taking jobs citizens are looking for or holding down wages, I assume the concerns are economic.

When I hear claims that they don't pay taxes, that they are here to collect welfare, that they commit 20% of the crimes, that they won't learn English or work hard or that they're dirty - I assume that bigotry is at work.

What's your take?

Posted by: j2hess | April 29, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

enough of the "gate" crap. Were the papers in the 19th century using "Dome" from Teapot Dome scandal for 30 freaking years?

"Bigotgate" stupidest thing since "Spygate."

Posted by: Please_Fix_VAs_Roads | April 29, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

So she was worried about the influx of Eastern Europeans.. It must upset Brown and the Left that they can't call her a RACIST to.

Posted by: sovine08 | April 29, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I have a crazy off the wall idea. Why don't we make it a habit to stop being nice to bigots?

I don't care if you're a politician for any party. When someone makes a bigoted comment shame them for it. Some are rushing to the woman's defense even though they don't know what she said.

Being concerned about illegal immigration is not bigoted. Being concerned about legal immigration usually is. There's plenty of Irish, Africans, Eastern Europeans and Asians who can still attest to that fact.

Posted by: theobserver4 | April 29, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Oh I thought this was about Democrats false assertion about the AZ law which mirrors federal immigration law.

The "racism" pimps hope to fool the ignorant into supporting Democrats with their mischaracterization. Hispanics can surely figure out the difference between routine law enforcement regarding illegals and real discrimination.

Dissappointed in Democrats low opinion of my family ,friends and neighbors of hispanic descent.

Posted by: rom12921 | April 29, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Dionne posted the facts of the Brown matter first. Why doesn't Mr. Dionne post the Arizona law word for word first in his column? And then comment on it. Mr. Dionne, like the rest of the Liberal columnists have distorted the Arizona law with false claims about how it works. Post the law Mr. Dionne, then give us your opinion. Let the readers see the distortions next to the facts.

Posted by: bobbo2 | April 29, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

And, yes, this incident shows that the United States is not the only country in which liberals accuse anyone who dares not share their narrow minded views of bigotry.

Posted by: bobmoses | April 29, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

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