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2010-04-29 - 14:45:00 - by AlisonW - Topic: UK-Politics: Elections | Labour |

Yesterday, a certain leader of the Labour Party went walkabout 'meeting the people of Britain' as part of his election campaign. So far, so good, if you like that sort of thing. He then chatted with a 'woman on the street' about a number of policy topics she politely raised. One of these brief enquiries was about the number of people arriving on these shores from other part of the European Union, others were about the state of the UK's finances and other 'hot button' issues. Gordon Brown – who clearly sets his own timetable for such events – made a few brief remarks and some minutes later the discussion ended and he departed in his shiny big black limousine.

Except he forgot he was still miked up (for Sky News) and made a few choice comments about the previous ten minutes meeting Mrs Duffy and others. First he called the discussion "a disaster" (to the surprise of just about every media commentator), then cast around for someone to blame – alighting on one of his long-term staff – and then uttered what appear to have been fatal words for the Labour party in this election "She's just a sort of bigoted woman".

Now, as many have pointed out, the dictionary says bigot means someone with utterly fixed opinions, ie. isn't the same as 'racist' which some commentators appear to be trying to equate the accusation with. But either way, Mrs Duffy – in her own words a life-long Labour support and someone who would be voting for that party – had put her questions very politely, and Gordon hadn't really answered them. But after trying to blame everyone else Brown finally went on a mea culpa trip, it seems more for the comments being heard than the comments themselves.

So he apologised on BBC Radio 2. Then on all other media. Then went back to visit Mrs Duffy at home and apologise again. Then wrote to Labour activists to apologise again!. Methinks the gentleman doth apologise too much! Instead of saying sorry – and meaning it – and getting on with things so that the story died with the news cycle – hopefully to get replaced by something else asap – he kept it so alive that it is still leading the media's election coverage more than 24 hours on.

When I first saw the clip of the event I tweeted "I don't believe what Gordon Brown says either. I am therefore also a #bigotedwoman by his standards. Good! #election2010 " When I made that tweet I had only seen the 'end' part of the meeting between her and Brown (nothing about immigration) and it appeared that Brown's outburst was over her simply disagreeing with him. And I very much disagree with him too …

But then a friend of mine – Link to twitterelmyra (Milena Popova) – made a post about how she felt about the discussion around this event reproduced by The Guardian, and including my tweet.

Personally, I am very strongly against any attempt to ostracise anyone who has come - legally - to this country. I welcome them with open arms and - personally - would be fairly happy with an 'open door' policy (like water, population finds its own levels in a given area). But it didn't hit me from what I saw of that initial meeting between Ms Duffy and Mr Brown that there was anything more than a simple polite query:

She wasn't antagonistic in any way in asking a question to which no party has properly answered (I'm ignoring the BNP of course) and is - quite clearly - something a substantial number of Labour voters have concerns about. Unlike others on her estate interviewed subsequently she wasn't that rabid nor - it appeared from what I could see and hear - was she being 'anti' European, more querying that it appears uncontrolled. I didn't hear a "flocking" comment, though how that word is interpreted very much depends on the listener. After all, a Vicar talks about 'their flock', meaning those follows of their religion attending their church.

People coming to the UK from the EU aren't 'immigrants' per se, they are part of the European Union of which we in the UK are an integral part and, just as much as they can come here so many British go 'there' too.

But the coverage … Well Labour leaders have said "he is only human" so often I almost start to think there may have been some question about it, and many have said they are relieved that Brown wasn't as over-the-top as he sometimes can be. Brown and other Labourites have all stated "She is not a bigot" so should we take that at face value, or is that too something they denounce in private to each other?

Some have even said "we all do it" to which my comment is "no we don't!" but that he held an opinion in private directly opposite to that he openly stated unprompted moments before is, in my view, reprehensible. If the microphone hadn't been forgotten by him (which I note happened again earlier today) then there would have been no apology of any kind. This is a petard of G.Brown's making and no-one else.

If you hold an opinion then you shouldn't be afraid to be public about that opinion. Especially if you are a politician asking people to trust their future and that of the country in your hands.



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