Gordon Brown Calls Constituent 'Bigoted'

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On Wednesday, British prime minister Gordon Brown had a brief conversation with Gillian Duffy, a 66-year-old woman from Rochdale, England. Brown was touring the country on behalf of the Labour Party, in anticipation of next week's parliamentary elections; he spoke with Duffy about the national debt, tuition fees, and pensioner's taxes. They also talked, for a few seconds, about immigration: "All these Eastern Europeans want to come in," Duffy said at one point. "Where are they flocking from?"

Brown deflected the question, but after the conversation was over, a live mic picked up his muttering to an aide: "That was a disaster. You should never have put me with that woman... she just was a bigoted woman." Journalists pounced on Brown's comment, prompting an apology from the prime minister later that day. Spectators on both sides of the pond have been hooting about the gaffe; a few are also wondering how it might affect the Labour Party's chances next week.

One-Liners From Twitter: Gordon Brown Is Like...

  • Martha Coakley "Brown should be glad the audio cut off before he called Curt Schilling a Yankees fan," quips The Washington Post's Dave Weigel.
  • A Certain Vice President "BREAKING: UK PM Gordon Brown resigns, accepts position as communications director for Joe Fucking Biden," snickers Kevin Whalen of Pundit Review.
  • Some Kind of Amateur Says Media Matters's Oliver Willis on Duffy's dismayed reaction: "That was equal parts 'im insulted' and 'how stupid is he to say that into a live mic.'"

Other Responses:

  • 'World's Saddest Facepalm' The Awl's Alex Balk links to a BBC News broadcast where Brown is made to listen to his own remarks, resulting in what Balk calls "perhaps the worst optics of the campaign thus far. Watch the (sadly unembeddable) video and check out his body language as he listens to the playback; this is pretty clearly a beaten man. There's something almost tragic about it. But also funny."
  • Well, This Probably Won't Elevate the Tone of the Discourse Diligently liveblogging the story at The New York Times, Robert Mackey dryly notes that "whatever Mrs. Duffy now chooses to do with her ballot, the size of the reaction to today's encounter from the British media suggests that Mr. Brown is now quite a bit less likely to get reporters to change their focus from the personalities of the candidates and the theater of the debates to a sober discussion of the issues."
  • Here's Why This Is Important The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan breaks it down. "Gillian Duffy is a life-long Labour voter. She doesn't like being called a racist because she worries about immigrants; she's fed up with the welfare state rewarding, as she sees it, the unworthy; she's working class; she's not alone. This is Brown's base. He has essentially attacked his own base in the most condescending two-faced manner possible, on a live microphone, on every broadcast. Imagine if Obama's gaffe about 'clinging to guns and religion' had been uttered by John McCain, about his own base. With a week to go ... If millions of Labour voters switch to the Lib-Dems, or stay at home in protest, we are talking about an electoral earthquake of historic proportions. This may be the sound that sets off the avalanche."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.