Mr Brown has changed my plans for this post to some extent, in the light of Wednesday's (28th April) events in Rochdale, but my original thoughts still fit. And I would refer anyone to my previous post, examining Gordon Brown's character and his 'substance'.
Well he summed it all up in a few unguarded comments. Through the day's unfolding events we saw all aspects of the man, I think proving a lot of things I've said about him.
The gaffe was essentially a socially irrational reaction from a man made clearly uncomfortable by a relatively amicable encounter with an elderly supporter of his own party. But it was honest. He can say what he likes now, but at that time, in that moment, they were his honest thoughts.
So what should we think? Opinion is divided it seems, well on the internet at least. And maybe I shouldn't be so harsh on the man, apparently he is trying his best. I mean he went back to this woman's house to grovel for over an hour, before emerging sporting the grin from the Tory posters.
Turn that one back on the Tories.
"I think you're all clueless bigots. Vote for me!"
No I think I'm just honest about Gordon Brown. The papers whip up the real fury about the man but then it seems a large section of the online community defend him and in many it was this that defined the whole story.
With Brown I'll just carry on as normal... I've said he quite clearly lacks social skills and I think this was the first aspect highlighted by the incident. He looked uncomfortable during their talk, though he answered her questions well enough and then the truth is the 'confrontation' ended quite amicably, with Mrs Duffy going away remaining a Labour voter. His reaction was completely disproportionate.
He said it was a 'disaster' and that the media would 'run with it', when it was a perfectly reasonable encounter and it would have been only a short piece in an otherwise dull day. He just remembered some of Blair's election moments in the past and what terrible judgement in the heat of the moment!? Obviously foremost; his judgement of this poor woman. However you look at it, in the moment he honestly considered her 'bigoted'.
Many have said that the media reaction was disproportionate, mostly his defenders and apologists, some have compared it other microphone gaffes (Bush/Blair, Reagan, Major, Prince Charles, Bush again...) and also to the defining moment of the 2001 election, the defining moment of John Prescott's political career.
The mark of the man
I don't agree with any of that. Brown's comments were much more significant and exposed something much more fundamental.
I mean many of the other gaffes I've alluded to were about journalists, politicians, even nations. I'm not denying that perhaps the media do like to jump on and use every little slip by Brown against him, but if he'd been caught calling a French journalist from a right wing paper a bigoted fascist frog, the reaction over here would have taken slightly different proportions... This was not a split second reaction to an assault as with Prescott and I think that incident did sum him up. Not a lot of analysis needed with a traditional Labour politician from the North, who was also a former boxer, never noted for his refinement... Brown's 'opponent' was elderly female supporter, not a relatively young mulletted farmer, who ironically, was probably a bigot (or is that bigoted of me to be so presumptuous?) Whatever, he deserved a slap.
One more time
This was an immediate dismissal of a normal Labour supporter, though obviously a bit too Old Labour for Brown's tastes. Not an off hand comment about a well-know journalist or a badly timed joke about an enemy nation (a la Reagan joking about bombing Russia). A Guardian commentator appearing on the BBC tried to compare it to the Reagan joke and directly compared the current uproar about Brown to the reaction by the US public at that time, saying the Americans laughed it off. Yeah, that was a joke about destroying their national nemesis in a very patriotic country, not an insulting reaction to a member of your party's former core support. The similarity to all the other microphone gaffe examples it that a microphone was left on...
So the first aspect was the clear discomfort and over-reaction in a seemingly unremarkable situation for a seasoned politician, then there was opinion that Gillian Duffy was 'bigoted' and 'used to be Labour'. This uncovered some true feelings about an individual who could be seen as representative of a significant number of the electorate, but more importantly part of the Labour party's former core support, the white working class. So forgetting his excuses for now, on the face value of what was actually said, he thought she was bigoted. He also possibly dismissed her as part of 'Old Labour', though of course he would deny that and it is perhaps playing semantics.
But to mention the issue of immigration, not offer a specific opinion because she didn't, is bigoted. This reaction was more than mirrored by a large section of the online community, it was amplified, by I don't know how many fold... On Twitter (#bigotedwoman) and in comments on media websites, there was a furore and I was surprised by the numbers defending him and actually agreeing with his 'honesty'. To paraphrase one left leaning journalist on Twitter he asked what was wrong with 'calling a bigot, a bigot?' This was a common perspective.
As I've said Mrs Duffy didn't actually offer an opinion on the subject, not on the people nor the effects of immigration, she even seemed to hold back from using the word racist. Gordon Brown offered his view in the moment, but the online community had complete objectivity and many saw fit to confirm that she was indeed 'bigoted'.
I saw many definitions posted, in defence of both sides of the argument and I have no doubt a lot of people did check their dictionaries. I did... Online and here's a simple definition from an old Collins Gem:
'Bigot - Person intolerant or not receptive to idea of others (esp. on religion, race, etc)'
She was clearly strong minded, but I don't think she exactly fits that definition, not on the face value of what was said. She actually seemed happy with most of his answers and she went away a confirmed Labour voter. All Labour party politicians have since said categorically she was not a bigot.
One online comment stated that she was clearly a 'nasty person' and I think most of the pro-Brown comments finished her sentences for her and filled in her opinions. Many just mocked her question, "these East Europeans, where are they flocking from?" Eastern Europe is just the simple answer, not the only answer.
I think presumptuously calling someone a bigot is quite bigoted actually...
A lot has been written but the reason I want to comment is that the reaction uncovered something I found quite sinister. Although Brown has since retracted all that was said; with his original candid opinion and the online opinion coming from what was quite clearly the Liberal Left (a largely internet adjusted group), what I saw was a disdain for someone from Labour's former core support. Whatever you make of what she said, let's face it she is not alone and from a relatively deprived town in one of Labour's heartlands, her perspective would be quite common.
She was not a possible BNP vote, she certainly didn't say she didn't like Eastern Europeans, she just had concerns for her community. Not to get into the whole issue at this moment of immigration, EU and non-EU. There are arguments on both sides and I tend to think that immigration is not a problem, that the problem is the structure of British society. However, one aspect of the recent increase of immigration from the EU has been job availability (pre and post crash) and the widely recognised issue of wage deflation at the lower end of the employment market, these issues might be concerns for someone like Gillian Duffy.
I guess these people move in pretty high minded circles and have a low tolerance for what might be called right wings views, because if they think that what she said was 'bigoted', enough to react, then I know I have moved in very different circles.
So how concerned are the Liberal Left about such issues? When to even broach the subject might incur the scorn from a large number of opened minded and tolerant 'left-wing' individuals. I wonder what connection there is now between the more middle class Liberal left of Labour's support and its former working class support?
I would consider myself left of centre, but to me the left wing was all about the struggle of the working classes. So now when I hear Gordon Brown talking of expanding the middle classes, see his reaction in this woman and see some of vitriol from the Liberal Left following the incident, I know for certain (once and for all...) that New Labour is not for me. Maybe when Brown has increased the middle class as he sees fit and marginalised everyone else, he won't have to deal with such an awful woman again...
No the media reaction was not disproportionate, well maybe a bit... But for me it displayed something that has been rumbling beneath the surface for the last 17 years, since poor Mr Smith died and Brown and Blair muscled their way in. Mandelson, Miliband, et al, these people are of the new political class, who do they represent?
(Damn it, maybe I am alone on this one. Though they fight over the middle ground, in principle I'm probably more Old Labour, these days I feel stuck in the middle. Left or right, what does it matter now? Who's left, who's right...?)
(But I do appreciate a lot of the defence will have occurred because of Labour's abysmal standing in this election)
Many of the defenders simply said they admired the honesty, asked what person has not let slip an opinion and also defended the fact that he apparently has a temper. Well what do they think of his honesty after he has apologising profusely, grovelled for forgiveness in person and fully retracted all that he said? It was only honest in that he says he thought she was saying all foreign students should be deported (hastily arranged excuse by Mandelson though it appears to be...). But lots of the online commentators have stuck resolutely to their opinion that Mrs Duffy was a bigot. So if Gordon and his colleagues genuinely do not think so, then what would he 'honestly' think of any of those that do...?
And I ask, what would he honestly think of any of us?
Remember this is the man who 'understands our concerns', well he showed a great deal of understanding and empathy with Mrs Duffy...
Seriously this is the Prime Minister, he is supposed to be the Leader of this nation, strong, intelligent, our most senior representative. When some old granny, one of his core support, potentially 'vulnerable' one of those he cares about so very much and hardly a seasoned political debater, asks him a couple of questions and makes a few poorly articulated observations, he gets in a massive f***ing tizz! No matter what your political persuasion is, should this man be Prime Minister?
I mean he thought she said we should 'expel foreign students'? He molded to successive but unrelated points together to get that? Should this man be negotiating crucially important matters on the international stage for us? The potential misunderstandings in heated discussions are frightening, think of a few yourself...
It's no wonder he stuck to the script during these debates, he barely seemed to acknowledge anything that was said and just kept on repeating the same old sound bites. Repetition is the key, the key is repetition...
'Just stick to the f***ing script Gordon...'
He certainly remember the £6 billion line. Good Lord can he remember that one??!! A piddling amount when you look at the grand scheme of things, but the basis and substance for an entire election campaign...! The party machine has fallen back on Brown's strength as an economic manager, but I do struggle to understand how this has not been pulled apart. I will look at that again, but I really think the other tow did not take him to task properly in any of the debates, Cameron perhaps only partially, not intricately enough. Jeremy Paxman in his interview on Friday night (30th April) could have done pinned him down on his excuse about the old 'no more boom and bust' mantra, that he seems to have wheeled out once more. He is trying to get out of all his failings on technicalities, blinded the uninformed and I suppose Paxman has to maintain impartiality.
But I will come back to to that, there is so much to dissect...
I just have to ask again, now that I have pulled apart this incident and his personal ability as a Prime Minister over the course of the campaign, why didn't he just become a civil servant or an adviser?
Contrary to almost everything I have implied on this blog, I do not dislike the man and I used to support Labour, understanding Mr Brown to be the brains behind New Labour. He is clearly intelligent, a man with morals and some sort of vision and even though his actions are flawed, he articulates his arguments very well.
Even when he came to power in 2007, after I had almost lost faith with the party, I thought he might have brought in some much needed direction. Instead I saw no substance and his last action as chancellor came to pass, the 10p tax fiasco and now here we are...
He could have produced as many cunning plans as he wanted and had influence, but not had to deal with the public he is so uncomfortable with.
And so to my original post, I don't remember all of these problems and all this talk of the need to get back to policy when Blair was fronting the show.
The constant call to look past the Leaders Debate and get down to the substance reminds me of something someone said in an election many years ago
"We are going to fight this campaign on issues not personalities."
"Why is that?"
"Because our candidate doesn't have a personality..."
Mandelson and Brown
Brown has his 'excuse' explained to him by Mandelson after Bigot-Gate
Even though the programme was made over 20 years ago and was set over 200 years ago, it's still clearly relevant today. Not just with regard to the candidates on offer, but also the honest view of a corrupt, archaic and ridiculous political and electoral system.
Watch it again, it's comedy perfection.