Posted by Brad @ 12:37 pm on April 28th 2010

Gillian Duffy and the Implosion of Labour

Funny story. Gordon Brown and Labour are running third in a two-party race. 8 day to go until the election. Brown goes on a walk and meets a tried and true Labour voter, one of his base. She goes off about various issues, including immigration. Gordon Brown asks about her grandchildren et al, is genial…it’s a nice op.

Gordon Brown then gets back in his car, with his mic still on, and proclaims what a bigot that lady was.

Press then go back to the woman to replay the remarks.

Like America, immigration is a hot button issue in the UK, and voters for whom it’s a big deal tend to be old style Labour. And Brown just slagged them off while insulting a little old lady at the same time. Iain Dale thinks that may change as these people move to the BNP. Sully thinks they may just stay home or switch to LibDem. Brown has tried to apologize in person to Ms. Duffy…to no apparent avail.

Not sure how much of an impact it’ll have, but a week to go and the press are in schadenfreude-overdrive because you just slammed a little old lady voter? Probably not good.


  1. Well, Brown is a wretched politician who can’t stop talking when he should be listening. We knew that before and it’s not really news. But was he in fact wrong?

    Consider the context of the actual remarks–the minute “life on the dole” is mentioned, she takes it as an opportunity to talk about how “you can’t say anything about the immigrants” (except, apparently, directly to the PM’s face in front of TV cameras–ah, what horrors of censorship the woman has to deal with). There then follows a remark about Eastern Europeans that is almost too incoherent to read any meaning into. In the absense of greater context it is impossible to make definitive judgments about the woman’s motives. But undeniably, her comments do lend themselves to being interpreted as bigoted.

    Gordon Brown, whatever his failings, is a man who has put an enormous amount of thought into policy matters and who has a very solid command of the facts. Here he is interacting with a voter motivated entirely by pathos, and who doesn’t appear to hold much with the presence of Eastern Europeans on Britain’s sacred soil. Yes, his faux pas was clownish. But I can’t hate him for making an eminently defensible statement; in fact, I think I’m actually more offended by his attempt to apologize for it.

    Comment by Rojas — 4/28/2010 @ 2:28 pm

  2. We’ve remarked before that the press seems to spend all of its time covering politics as a game and commenting on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of strategies, instead of actually evaluating issues and the truth or falsehood of statements.

    This, surely, is one of those times?

    Comment by Rojas — 4/28/2010 @ 2:29 pm

  3. That’s kind of a weird question. And “surely”?

    We’ve remarked about that press tendency before in terms of questions that, presumably, have a factual answer (does the financial reform package include a bailout clause paid by taxpayers for big banks?), or whether subjective claims are treated by the press as objective facts or stenographed without readily available conflicting or problematizing facts (Saddam has ties to Al Queda, everyone agrees that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction). Whether someone is a bigot or not doesn’t strike me as falling in that category—it’s almost entirely a subjective qualitative judgment. I say “almost” because I suppose there are some people that you could reasonably say are bigots by any objective measure of it, but we’re not even in that galaxy here.

    If you ask me, I think a lot of the people that gin up immigration as an issue are, in fact, motivated by at the very least a soft bigotry, but I’m not nearly comfortable enough in that evaluation to be able to classify anyone concerned about immigration as a bigot. So no, I don’t really think this is one of those times. At all, really.

    Comment by Brad — 4/28/2010 @ 3:01 pm

  4. Maybe I didn’t phrase that very clearly.

    The issue being discussed here by the media is, “How will Brown’s political gaffe affect the election?” Nobody is asking the question “Was what Brown said defensibly true?” because it seems to be an article of faith among the media that a voter CANNOT say anything negative about a voter, regardless of the opinions that voter expresses.

    Is the media asking the right question? If Brown’s wrong because he’s wrong, that’s one thing; but if he said something true but impolitic, I don’t know why the blogosphere should be all afire over the matter.

    Tea Partiers and Arizonans have been called bigots for saying a LOT less than Duffy did. My personal position is that you can’t call a person a bigot merely for making the statements Duffy did, because it’s not sufficient evidence to infer her motives. But if it’s not OK for Brown to make those inferences with Duffy, then I want to know why it is OK for everyone else in the political universe to make the inference about Obama’s opposition.

    Comment by Rojas — 4/28/2010 @ 4:20 pm

  5. Also: how certain are we that this woman isn’t Susan Boyle?

    Comment by Rojas — 4/28/2010 @ 4:23 pm

  6. Well, for the record, I don’t think it’s fair in any of those cases. But I get your point.

    As to your question, besides the answer I’ve already given: I’m not sure if the media were asking the question, “was Brown’s characterization of Ms. Duffy fair?”, that the answer would be any more kind to Brown.

    As to your larger point: I don’t think I’ve ever said that analysis of political impact is invalid or uninteresting. My point has been, in factual disputes, that it isn’t the only valid or interesting analysis, which is too often how it’s treated by the media. In this case, because there isn’t really a factual dispute involved, Brown’s characterization was more subjective and qualitative than anything else, and because the entire point of that photo op in the first place, and what made both of their relative positions (he as a politician, she as a voter) worth sticking a camera too, was the “politics as a game” stagecraft of it in the first place, I don’t really see the story as invalid at all. Seeing that whole game of politics blown up in his face is sort of amusing, although like you I have to feel for him, as most voters are idiots or bigots or both, but then again, my career and policy-making ability isn’t contingent on the polite fiction that I don’t actually think that.

    Comment by Brad — 4/28/2010 @ 4:45 pm

  7. Good reax post from Sullivan, including a quote from our friend Dizzy.

    Comment by Brad — 4/29/2010 @ 9:47 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.