John Lanchester · Brown and the 'bigoted woman'
In Geoffrey Madan’s Notebooks, there’s a story about Gladstone. Someone tells him an anecdote about two brothers having an argument about an inheritance in Derbyshire on Christmas Eve; the younger one, with the help of the butler, attacked the elder and caused GBH. He was put on trial, and fled the country on his solicitor’s advice. Told those bare facts, Gladstone immediately said that seven points were ‘especially worthy of attention’, and went through them at length.
To adopt a conciser form of the Gladstonian manner, I’d like to draw attention to the following seven points about our prime minister’s encounter with Mrs Duffy of Rochdale:
1. The fact that the ‘spontaneous’ encounter with a member of the electorate was supposed to be a stage-managed event with a hand-picked lifelong Labour supporter.
2. The whingeing.
3. The blaming of sidekicks.
4. The fact that she was by no serious standard a bigot, and that there was no racial edge to her remarks, which, whether you agree with them or not, voice a concern shared by millions of older white working-class voters.
5. The very, very rare glimpse into the way politicians talk in private. This in turn reflects the following:
6. The fact that professional politicians tend not to forget when they are wearing a microphone, especially if it belongs to a news organisation owned by Rupert Murdoch (Sky).
7. And last, the fact that almost any one of us can imagine doing something similar. I don’t mean about the specific case, I just mean saying the exact opposite of what we came out with when we were doing ‘nice’.
I doubt this will actively put anyone off Labour and onto another party, but it will depress activists no end and may do something to stop people from turning out to vote. It doesn’t take much to turn a reluctant loyalist into a non-voter, and that ‘bigoted’ thing might just do it. Still, here’s a good suggestion about how Brown might turn things round, from the satirical news site Newsbiscuit.