Despite Gordon Brown apparently being determined to lose the election by insulting a pensioner in the presence of the national media, I doubt his description of Rochdale voter Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman” will have any effect on the election result.
It's moments like this which reveal the stage-managed nature of the election. The political “walkabouts” taken by leaders surrounded by media types, suited spin doctors and members of their own party pass for genuine campaigning. Brown was heard saying “they should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? It's just ridiculous...”
Ridiculous, presumably, that a voter could slip through the net of vetted individuals and ask a politician to explain their policies in real time without an autocue. Brown's apparent irritation with having to deal with a conversation that departed from pre-arranged scripts is an indictment of the contempt with which the entire political class treats all of us. What was interesting about his initial exchange with Mrs Duffy was how Brown kept interrupting her with a string of soundbites. “We're for fairness... for hard-working families...better schools...” It was as if he couldn't think of anything substantive to say.
What about the “bigot” comment? Duffy's politics were of a type familiar to anyone who has done any political campaigning in recent years. It could be summed up, very crudely, as Welfare State = Good, Immigration = Bad. She is, apparently, a lifelong Labour supporter who has worked in the public sector for decades. While she mentioned having to pay for the national debt, and why tutition fees were bad, her attack on Brown was mostly from the Right; lock up the criminals, crack down on the scroungers, sort out the Poles. The sort of populist, reactionary shite that will no doubt inspire a proliferation of “Gillian Duffy should be PM” Facebook groups.
So Brown perhaps really did think that Duffy's views on immigration were bigoted. But he should perhaps indulge in a bit of self-criticism. His Party's citizenship tests, “British Jobs For British Workers”, points-based immigration scheme, demonisation of Muslims, have all pandered to racism in society rather than combating it. It's no surprise that a Labour candidate like John Cowan could come out with disgusting anti-Muslim comments.
Working-class racism should be condemned as any other racism should be. Anti-immigrant feeling should be fought. But it's more than a bit rich for the leader of a Party that has presided over all this to throw around allegations of bigotry.
As usual I'm taking an Everyone Involved Is Wrong position on this one. Brown, like all politicians, wants his politics stage-managed and stale, without argument, confrontation, or possible embarrassment. Duffy should probably go and buy some Polish sausages, they're fucking delicious. The media should piss off from her front lawn and go and cover a real story.
What sort of democracy are we in where Politician Meets Voter is front page news?