Bigotgate sounds like a seaside resort in the north of England, but this latest addition to the political lexicon actually refers to an incident this Wednesday morning when the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was electioneering in Rochdale, exchanged testy words about immigration with Gillian Duffy, a widowed grandmother and a lifelong Labour supporter, before he climbed into an awaiting car, unaware that his lapel-microphone was still turned on, and proceeded to slag her off live on Sky news. He complained that meeting the grandmother was a “disaster” and that she was a “bigoted woman.” When his comments were finally played back to him in a BBC radio studio, he was filmed with his head in his hands, and he subsequently returned to Rochdale and apologised to Mrs Duffy.
Considering that Gordon is one of the most unpopular figures in modern political history, it was fairly extraordinary for him to meet a voter who was not speechless with contempt at the very sight of him – indeed Mrs Duffy was originally sympathetic to Labour and during his first encounter with her, Brown achieved what for him was the equivalent of charming the socks off her. But despite all this, Brown ended up blowing his rare stroke of good fortune – in this respect, it was akin to winning the lottery and then accidentally flushing the winning ticket down the toilet. By Wednesday afternoon, the media were once again scolding Gordon and he was once again squirming and apologising – the eternally wretched schoolboy who is always caught out by his mother.
It is silly to pretend that Gordon’s private opinion of the average voter was in any way shocking or surprising. One assumes that the teenager who serves you in the supermarket probably believes that you are a complete fool, and that in the back of the store with all his mates, he will laugh or roll his eyes at the sheep-witted stupidity of the customers. Indeed, it was remarkable that Gordon’s comments were so mild – if he had described Mrs Duffy as “sheer scum” or “beyond retarded” then the subsequent grovelling volte-face would have been ten times more nauseatingly excruciating.
Brown went to Mrs Duffy’s home to apologise in person, with the entire media in tow. If these people had any sense of comedy, Brown would have explained to the cameras that he was going into the house to apologise to Mrs Duffy, he would have then disappeared inside, and there would have been a short pause followed by the sound of smacks and Brown howling. He was inside for forty minutes – presumably Mrs Duffy informed him that she would only accept his apology in return for half an hour of sexual conquest – a shag from the Prime Minister would be something to boast about down at the bingo. Actually, their conversation probably went something like this:
Mrs Duffy [in tears]: How could you insult a poor old woman like me… live on national television?
Mr Brown: Gillian… You have to believe that I’m fully committed to you, and to Britain, and to our future. I know that I’m not perfect. But I misunderstood what you said, and then I was misquoted, and then when I knew what I had said, I came back to immediately apologise to you, because that’s the sort of man I am. On the questions of substance, I think you’ll find that I’m the right option for you and for Britain… By the way, can I use your bathroom…?
Mrs Duffy: Certainly. It’s down there on the left.
Mr Brown [alone in the bathroom]: What a grotty little house. And what an awful woman.
Perhaps there unfolded a version of that scenario in which Homer Simpson confuses what he is thinking and saying, as Brown told Mrs Duffy that, “I don’t care whether you live or die so long as I get your fucking vote,” whilst he mentally recited his meaningless apology. In any event, the nightmare in Rochdale ended with Mrs Duffy indicating that she accepted the Prime Minister’s apology, but that she would not be voting in the election, having lost all faith in parliamentary democracy.
Gordon’s assertion that he is “a man of substance” is, of course, pure P.R. For him, “man of substance” is rather like “man of God,” in that the substance is non-existent. Throughout the entirety of the election campaign, he has so far failed to come up with a single suggestion as to how anything in the country could be possibly improved. And if he is going to start insulting the voters to boot, then he should really take lessons from that great master of the diss, Silvio Berlusconi, who has previously insulted senior German, Finnish and Spanish politicians, “complimented” Barack Obama on his “suntan,” claimed that the Chinese (population 1.3 billion) used to boil their children to fertilise the fields, and asked a female councillor “can I fondle you?” whilst they were touring the site of an earthquake.
If Gordon’s comments had come from the lips of Berlusconi, then they would have been deemed surprisingly flat and out of character, but then Silvio has probably never met a woman without gigantic tits, and he teaches us that if you are going to insult people then you need panache and a bit of balls – qualities which Gordon would undoubtedly benefit from. If I was Gordon, I would have returned to Rochdale and given a three-hour speech comprehensively spelling out all the ways in which Mrs Duffy was a “bigoted women,” whilst Berlusconi babes cavorted around me in bras. If he had done that, the media would have most likely left him alone for a while.
[Update: After I wrote this, I saw on the news that Labour have called in Tony Blair to boost morale – rather like the Romanovs digging up Rasputin because at least he had a bit of glamour. Ed]