My first reaction upon reading about Gordon Brown’s “bigoted woman” gaffe was, “but what if she is bigoted?” My second thought was, “this will probably work in Gordon Brown’s favour”.
After all, it wouldn’t be the first time the media got a tad over-excited when criticising Gordon Brown, only for it to work in Brown’s favour. Just remember back to the faux furore over his handwriting. Then there were the bullying allegations which could have been so damaging for Brown but ended up being more damaging for a charity.
It turns out that, although she perhaps is not a full-scale bigot, Gillian Duffy’s views certainly head towards that zone. Her anti-immigration rant was a pretty typical ill-informed platitude. The nadir was her asking “where all those eastern Europeans are flocking from”, to which the answer is, of course, eastern Europe.
Even so, this is nonsense the like of which we probably all hear every day, be it in an overheard conversation on the street or one of those mad phone-in bigot-magnets that radio stations love to broadcast every morning. In that sense, it was over-the-top of Gordon Brown to call her bigoted, although I would probably have been thinking the same myself.
I am sure that if John Prescott had done this, it would be widely seen as a vote-winner. As it is, this incident plays into media narratives about the gaffe-prone shambles of a man man who fails to empathise with voters and who has a Jekyll and Hyde character. But how many can seriously say they have never muttered under their breath about other people’s views being intensely wrong?
What I find interesting, though, is that Mrs Duffy holds these sorts of views and yet describes herself as “a lifelong Labour supporter”. This is just yet another demonstration to me that Labour is not a compassionate party that cares about the worse-off people in society. A truly progressive party ought to welcome and applaud the endeavours of people who are so desperate to make their lives better that they will move to the opposite side of the continent to try and legitimately make it happen.
This gets to the heart of the real reason why this incident is damaging for Gordon Brown. It exposes the fact that Labour has long since given up the pretence of being the party that is in favour of the disadvantaged in society. Yet at the same time, it dismantles like a house of cards all of the efforts Labour has made over years, if not decades, to court the votes of bigots.
This is the party that likes to talk tough and act tough on immigration. It is the party that delights in putting up hoops of fire for immigrants to leap through. It is the party that introduced the bigoted points based system. It is the party that, in a bigoted move, restricted residents of EU member states Bulgaria and Romania from legitimately seeking work in this country.
Gordon Brown is the person who proudly announced that there should be “British jobs for British workers”. Well, today he’s said it all — Labour is the bigoted party.
The problem is that Gordon Brown has, probably for the first time I can remember, said something about immigration that I can actually agree with — but it wasn’t intended to be heard. That’s because while Labour likes to think of itself as the “progressive” party, its credentials in this area are in fact wafer-thin. If Brown thinks that expressing a mildly anti-immigration view is “bigoted”, he and his party will nevertheless do anything to gain the votes of bigots if it means they can get into power.
It interests me that one of Gordon Brown’s most extensive apologies today has been to members of the Labour Party in an email. Is it because he called them bigots?