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.)
| April 29, 2010; 10:11 AM ET
Categories: Dionne | Tags: E.J. Dionne
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