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Why Gordon Brown's 'bigotgate' gaffe was so bad

E.J. Dionne writes that it’s “astonishing” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown did not realize his mic was live when he described a voter he’d just met as “a bigoted woman,” throwing the Labor Party’s campaign into turmoil. Perhaps, but I have to feel for Brown. After all, it happens to America’s thoroughly mediocre politicians, sometimes, too. The difference? In America, our leaders’ most famous open-mic moments appear to involve profanity more often than actual substance -- which, sometimes, seems to do them more good than harm.

Brown’s blunder is on another plane of open-mic incompetence not only because he attacked a voter, as E.J. points out, and not only because it makes him appear to be the arrogant bully his opponents want him to appear to be. It’s also because Brown was too frank about this festering social issue. He attacked a voter for describing the discomfort many Britons no doubt feel -- whether they’d admit it or not -- about immigration. Though the British don’t have the same tradition of politicians speaking in code about race, identity or the Other, Brown’s opponents at tonight’s debate -- particularly David Cameron -- have the opportunity to exploit this episode using rhetorical winks and nods. That’s the big f-ing deal.

Also: more open-mic gaffes here, compiled by Reuters.

By Stephen Stromberg  | April 29, 2010; 2:46 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Next: Eric Cantor's 'false choice' dodge


Brown's biggest mistake was telling the woman to her face that she was a bigot. Politicians everywhere make nice with the Birthers, loony left and who ever happens to be standing in front of them on camera. No wonder people think the irrational thoughts they do about running a government; we can cut taxes and keep services with not cost, that someone other than our selves (imagraints, polices of other countries) are to blame rather than looking at what we are doing to ourselves. A real leader is someone who is the first person to call a bad idea, stupid. The underlying principle of the first ammendmant is that with free speech the good ideas will kill off the bad ones.

If there are no leaders then people will vote for the person who repeats their thought the most often.

Posted by: tianyisun | April 29, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Have any of the so-called journalists who offer opinions on this incident actually seen a tape of the exchange between Mrs Duffy and Gordon Brown?

Mrs Duffy began by expressing concern over the lack of jobs and housing in her neighbourhood, and went on to describe the complications caused by the massive influx of immigrants from eastern Europe who make the situation worse for the people who live in her depressed area of England.

The problem is that there are too many people competing for too few jobs, and there aren't enough houses and flats to accommodate both the native Britons and all the immigrants coming in from eastern Europe.

Is expressing that concern racist? If so, then many black Britons and Britons whose families came from India and Pakistan must also be racist because they have been interviewed expressing the same concerns.

If there were sufficient jobs and if housing weren't such a serious problem, most of the concern over immigration would dissipate.

Gordon Brown’s mistake was that he wasn’t listening to what the woman was saying.

Mr Stromberg: If you did your homework you would know that no one in Britain has to speak in code about race, identity, or The Other. The racists even have their own bona-fide political party – that party is the BNP – and anyone can vote for them. Funny thing, though; the BNP remain marginal. In the privacy of the casting the ballot, the British voters do not support the BNP.

If poor Mrs Duffy were racist, she would be voting for the BNP instead of Labour. Or perhaps UKIP, another political party, this one anti-immigration, and anti-EU, but not actually racist.

Do you Americans EVER get the facts right about any issue?

Posted by: darling_ailie | April 29, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Darling Ailie: Do you Americans EVER get the facts right about any issue?


Wow. You sure took us down a peg. How can a Yank possibly respond to that? How about: " British are sooooo superior. Well, would you like to know what you'd be without us, the good ol' U.S. of A. to protect you? I'll tell you. The smallest f***ing province in the Russian Empire..."

(with thanks to Kevin Kline)

Posted by: cynicalidealist | April 29, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

Darling_allie why is it that non-racist anti-immigration folks never support anti-emigration legislation? What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Please don't confuse bigot with racist, one would think that one who is a native speaker of the Queen's english would under stand the difference.

Posted by: tianyisun | April 29, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Darling_allie...I understand & concur with the jist of what you are stating as far too often Americans who support defending our borders are called racist or are accused of being anti-immigration. We aren't anti-immigration,we aren't racists who hate Mexicans; we are supporters of LEGAL immigration which facilitates healthy growth & order for ALL. However, regarding getting facts straight,Brown called this voter a BIGOT not a racist & a bigot is one who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions to the point of animosity.Considering the opinionated animosity Brown spewed on this woman, it appears it is HE who is the true bigot. Lastly, you need to be very careful lumping over 3 billion people into one mindset - that would be like me accusing all Brits of being arrogant snobs.

Posted by: br1nn | April 30, 2010 3:46 AM | Report abuse

"Do you Americans EVER get the facts right about any issue? Posted by: darling_ailie" Actually, I agree with darling_ailie, for reasons to numerous to list, a nation that built the transcontinental railroad (with British capital), the Panama Canal, Manhattan Project (U.K. & Canada partners) and sent a man to the Moon and back, we cannot control our own illegal/legal immigration! I share Mrs. Duffy's concerns and question Brown's response as to the reality of the situation in the U.K. This is and will increasingly be a worldwide problem as the human population continues to rapidly increase with ever decreasing life supporting resources, especially water. Oh well, there is always the myth of the afterlife!

Posted by: kemcb | April 30, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I just watched the entire interaction between Brown and Duffy on utube. Although on the issue of immigration I’m a restrictionist, after watching the video, I have complete sympathy for Brown. The issue of bigotry is beside the point. The woman was just horrible obnoxious. A bulldog. She just wouldn’t quit. And Brown had to put up with her barrage of complaints for over thirteen minutes. (Her complaint that was explicitly about immigration lasted a mere thirty seconds or so.)

Posted by: jmserc | April 30, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

"Do you Americans EVER get the facts right about any issue?"


Sure. You lost the colonies in 1776 and you, along with the rest of your stewed tomato-eating snobs have been pissed off about it ever since.

Two words that will never go together again:


Posted by: hofbrauhausde | May 1, 2010 7:08 AM | Report abuse

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