Wednesday, 28 April 2010

"Whose idea was that?": Gordon, Gillian and the election pantomime

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?

1 comment:

  1. The episode shows how far removed from the working class the Labour Party leadership has become.

    Duffy did not make bigoted comments, she asked reasonable questions about topics being discussed in every pub in the land.

    The right thing to do would have been to answer all her points with clear facts, and a commitment to make things better for all working class people. Gordon was not able to do this, hence his rage.

    He is more used to talking to businessmen and slick political lobbyists, people who make their fortunes parasitising off the public sector while making the politicians feel good about themselves.

    Outside this cosseted cocoon, working class people are used to asking straight questions and getting straight answers. Gillians crime in Gordon's eyes was not that she mentioned immigration, but that she did not defer to him and his leadership as the man that 'saved the world', that she did not automatically give Labour her vote as if Labour were automatically entitled to it, for nothing in return.

    Gordon has alienated a wide section of the core labour vote, a section that was already very soft about voting for Labour, as Labour has ignored them for the last decade in favour of pro-rich policies. Immigration has become an issue, because Labour has been vicious in its treatment of asylum seekers and their families, because, as you point out, they've let slogans like 'British Jobs for British Workers' trip easily off their tongues, and because, in conditions of capitalist crisis, when everyone is feeling the pinch, we start niggling with our neighbours over scraps instead of looking at the bigger picture and seeing who is really responsible for shortages and cuts.