Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Brown bigot row shows how real people change election campaigns

Belfast Telegraph Political Editor David Gordon assesses the damage to Gordon Brown from the ‘bigot’ row

At some point in most election campaigns, a member of the public gets involved and spoils the script.

For all the careful stage-managing and obsessive pre-planning, the political class still cannot keep real people entirely out of the picture.

Tony Blair was harangued about the NHS outside Birmingham Hospital by an angry woman in 2001. John Prescott biffed a mullet-headed protestor in Wales in the same campaign.

And in the last US Presidential campaign, Republican hopes were briefly lifted after Barack Obama was put on the spot about tax by "Joe the Plumber".

Now Gordon Brown’s encounter with Rochdale grandmother Gillian Duffy has left the entire Labour campaign reeling.

The sorry incident needs a name. Bigotgate? Grannygate? Biddygate?

Tomorrow’s tabloid front pages will make awful reading for Labour. “When Duffy met Duffer” might be one of the kinder headlines.

Another immediate problem for Brown is that the embarrassment comes just ahead of the final leaders’ debate.

With the economy as a central theme, it should have been the Prime Minister’s big chance to shine, demonstrating his experience and grasp of detail.

Instead, his disparaging comments about a pensioner will never be far from viewers’ minds.

His behaviour will also throw fresh focus onto the revelations from earlier this year, about his temper tantrums and unpleasantness towards staff.

In fact, aides may be secretly relieved that Brown's outburst was not much worse, and that the air did not turn blue.

The irony is that he had handled the exchanges with Mrs Duffy quite well. And he avoided giving her the obvious answer when she asked where Eastern European workers were coming from.

"That would be Eastern Europe — the clue's in the name," would have been the reply from some lesser mortals.

Brown's "penitent sinner" act may help mitigate some of the damage.

So too might the fact that the General Election campaign still has some quite important matters to address.

National debt, unemployment, public spending, double dip recession — the list goes on.

Yet for a while yesterday it seemed the entire decision on who should occupy Number 10 rested on whether a 65-year-old Rochdale woman accepted an apology.

The day's events support those who say the public expects too much from its politicians.

Imagine the chaos if everyone was recorded talking privately in the back of a car in the middle of yet another exhausting day.

How many jobs would be lost by unguarded comments about a boss, or relationships jeopardised by throwaway remarks?

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