Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gordon Brown's election car crash provides Labour with its most dangerous moment of the campaign.

I avoided talking today about Cameron being ambushed by the father of a disabled boy, just as I avoided talking about the girl who told him, "I don't believe you" when she confronted him at a university the other day.

Gordon Brown's discomfort is rather harder to ignore as he is caught calling someone "a bigot" whilst wearing a radio mike. And, as the Prime Minister fighting an election, it is surely not too much to ask him to remember that he was wired up for sound. So it's a completely self inflicted wound. It's idiocy on the grandest scale.

It's the kind of gaffe that always seems to occur during general elections - remember Major calling three members of his own cabinet "bastards"? - so it's hard to fathom just how much damage he has done. But, as the woman was expressing a concern regarding immigration that many Brits will feel is a fair one, there's a good chance that he's done rather a lot.

Indeed, Brown not only telephoned the woman, but he then went to her house and spent 45 minutes apologising to her, so it's fair to say that he also thinks that this is a f@ck up of quite a magnificent magnitude.

There are - as the Guardian points out - several way in which this could hurt Brown:

But here are three reasons why Labour will be worried:

The prime minister's warm final remarks to Duffy in public, followed seconds later by his angry outburst in private, highlight one of his character traits – that he says one thing in public and another in private. The coup to replace Blair in 2006? Not me, guv, Brown said – until it turned out that one of the plotters had visited him at home.

• Macavity the Cat. Brown always avoids the blame when something goes wrong and points the finger at others. So today the encounter was all the fault of his long-serving – and long-suffering – aide Sue Nye.

• Immigration could now take centre stage after Brown took exception to Duffy's anger about the presence of people from eastern Europe. Labour has been reluctant to talk about immigration because opinion polls show voters feel very strongly about the issue. The Tories have also been reluctant to talk about immigration for fear of being branded extremists.

The encounter today may give the Tories the chance to say that, on immigration, they are reflecting the concerns of lifelong Labour supporters like Duffy.

One person came out of this smelling of roses: and that was Nick Clegg.

One of the reasons why I ignored Cameron being mugged is because (a) I felt sorry for him, and (b) because I always hate the way these incidents become what the press focus on during elections at the expense of policy.

Now, the conservatives loathe when the election is about policy, so the Tories have been jumping all over this story as if this is what the election should now be about.

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said: “I think the comments speak for themselves. The public will make their own judgement.

“They will contrast what he was saying to the lady and what he was saying privately when he thought no one was listening and draw their own conclusions.

“That’s the thing about general elections – they reveal the truth about people.”

Nick Clegg appeared to take a much more adult attitude whilst being frank that Brown should not have said what he said.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "If you are answering people's questions, you have got to answer those questions with a sense of respect, whatever you think of them, not insult them. He is right to have apologised.

"I think everybody in every walk of life would sort of mutter things underneath their breath which they wouldn't want everyone to know about.

The public aren't stupid and Clegg did himself a real favour by hinting that "there but for the grace of God go I...."

He sounds like an adult whilst there is a definite air of gloating to Osborne's reaction. He and his fellow Tories would like to talk about this for the rest of the week... and possibly will...

Just don't ask them about policy.


When Brown f@cks up, he does so spectacularly:
The woman he insulted is a widow whose husband died of cancer and who worked with handicapped children.
And I thought it couldn't get any worse...

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