Controversial Gordon Brown remarks caught on air
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is now at the centre of controversy when a live microphone caught him describing a voter he had talked to as being a “bigoted woman”.
The incident occurred after Brown, encouraged by his advisors to interact with ordinary people more often before next week’s parliamentary elections, went for a walkabout in the town of Rochdale, located near Manchester.
There, he spoke with Gillian Duffy, aged 65, who challenged him on topics such as health and education, before asking about immigration: “All those Eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?” she asked him.
Brown responded by saying that “[a] million people come from Europe, but a million people, British people, have gone into Europe.” The prime minister, upon finishing the discussion, said it was “very nice to meet you” and returned to his car.
Unbeknownst to him, however, the Sky News microphone attached to his lapel was still turned on and picked up the conversation that followed inside the vehicle: “That was a disaster … they should never have put me with that woman,” Brown said. “Whose idea was that? It’s just ridiculous.” When an aide asked what Duffy had said, Brown responded: “Everything, she was just a bigoted woman that said she used to be Labour […] I don’t know why Sue [an aide] brought her up towards me.”
The PM, upon being informed what had happened, returned to Duffy’s home to personally apologise. “Sometimes you do make mistakes and you use wrong words, and once you’ve used that word and you’ve made a mistake, you should withdraw it and say profound apologies, and that’s what I’ve done,” he said. During an interview with the BBC, Brown is seen with his head in hands as the comments were replayed.
Duffy, speaking to reporters immediately after having talked with the PM, described Brown as being “very nice”, but later said she was “very upset” when informed what Brown had said off-camera. “Why has he come out with words like that? He’s supposed to be leading the country and he’s calling an ordinary woman who’s come up and asked questions that most people would ask him,” she said in an interview with the BBC.
“[…] It’s going to be tax, tax, tax for another twenty years to get out of this national debt, and he’s calling me a bigot,” later adding: “I want to know why – them comments I made there – why [sic] I was called a bigot.”
A spokesman for Brown said: “Mr Brown has apologized to Mrs Duffy personally by phone. He does not think that she is bigoted. He was letting off steam in the car after a difficult conversation. But this is exactly the sort of conversation that is important in an election campaign and which he will continue to have with voters.”
Some political analysts have said the gaffe may hurt Labor’s chances in the upcoming elections; the party had managed to narrow the Conservatives’ lead in recent opinion polls.
The Conservatives responded to the incident — dubbed by some media outlets as “Bigotgate” — with Shadow chancellor George Osborne saying that “general elections […] do reveal the truth about people.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, meanwhile said: “You should always try to answer the questions as best you can. He has been recorded saying what he has said and will have to answer for that.”
Andrew Russell, a politics lecturer for Manchester University, commented on the situation. “A politician in a stronger position could recover from this. What we know is that Gordon Brown is not in that position.”