Thursday, April 29, 2010

UK: Brown in the brown stuff

Gordon Brown has apologised to Gillian Duffy, a voter he met while out campaigning and whom he referred to as "bigoted". But his apology has done little to calm the media storm that threatens to scupper any chance Labour might have of winning next week's general election. 

The prime minister's comments were caught on tape by his lapel microphone which he had seemingly forgotten about as he climbed into his car. After a forceful exchange of views, Brown left and believing he was no longer being recorded spoke candidly to his aide about the encounter. "That was a disaster. Should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that?" Brown said. His aide responded saying he did not know. Brown quipped that it was another aide and referred to the arrangement as being, "just ridiculous." His aide tries to reassure him that it may not be broadcast. "Not sure if they'll go with that one," the aide said. "Oh they will," Brown exclaims. Asked what she had said, Brown then let down his guard. "Everything. She's just this sort of bigoted woman who said she used to be a Labour voter. Ridiculous," Brown retorted [Transcripts: Times / BBC].


It was not long before the recording was aired and Brown was further embarrassed in a radio interview when the tape was played back to him. Meanwhile Gillian Duffy was said to be shocked by the remarks. "I don't think I'd like to speak to him. I can tell you that now. I don't think I'd like to speak to him at all," she told reporters. She said she wasn't after a personal apology but wanted an answer as to why Brown referred to her as bigoted. "I don't want to speak to him again really. Just give an apology. I want to know why them comments I said there why I was called a bigot. That's all."

Media frenzy

The press went into a frenzy with the story with most papers leading with Brown's comments. The Daily Express called Brown the "Hypocrite who shames Britain". The Independent looked at the amount of time spent by the Prime Minister on key events during his tenure at No 10. apparently spending 22 minutes talking to Barack Obama at the White House, but spent 39 minutes apologising to Gillian Duffy after calling her a "bigot". According to the Telegraph Mrs Duffy had only popped out to buy a loaf of bread, but after bumping into Brown she "became the woman who could seal the outcome of the General Election", the paper said under the headline a "Day of Disaster". Running with the headline "Trouble in Rochdale" The Time showed a picture of Brown, head in hands as he appeared on the radio. The paper also referred to "a calamitous chain of events" triggered by the prime minister's blunder. The Sun, often seen as a temperature gauge of public feeling, went with "Brown Toast" inferring that the election was all but lost for Labour following the leader's remarks. The Daily Star also pulled no punches with its headline, "Bigots, that's what Brown thinks of you!" [Sky: Paper review]


In an attempt to placate Mrs Duffy, and the media, Gordon Brown visited the pensioner to offer his heartfelt apology. Emerging after more than 40 minutes talking to Mrs Duffy, the prime minister said, "If you like, I'm a penitent sinner. Sometimes you say things you don't mean to say, sometimes you say things by mistake and sometimes when you say things you'll want to correct them very quickly. I wanted to come here and say to Gillian that I was sorry, I had made a mistake, but also to say I understood the concerns she was bringing to me and I had simply misunderstood some of the words she had used." As for Mrs Duffy, she has said she will not be making any comment following Gordon Brown's visit and face-to-face apology [BBC]. 

"Yesterday was yesterday"

The issue is unlikely to go way for the prime minister who tonight faces the third and final priministerial debate. Foreign news media have also widely reported on the gaffe. US television networks wasted no time in leaping on Gordon Brown's "bigot" blunder. "Gordon Brown's campaign-trail gaffe could cost him election," blared the caption on MSNBC while CNN carried the beleaguered prime minister's apology live [Times blog].

Gordon Brown meanwhile has being attempting to put the event behind him. "Yesterday was yesterday," Brown said earlier, "Today I want to talk about the future of the economy." Unfortunately for Gordon, it is not what everybody wants to talk about. However he is in good company when it comes to gaffes [Times / BBC].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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