“Bigotgate” and the British Election


Elitism can be a dangerous thing in politics, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has imperiled both his reelection campaign and the fortunes of his Labor Party after a particularly unflattering demonstration of it.

The British media has dubbed it “Bigotgate.” In one of those unscripted moments that so often spells political suicide, Brown this week suffered a ruinous encounter with a Labor Party voter in the working-class mill town of Rochdale. In the course of meeting “ordinary voters” – part of an electoral strategy designed to make the famously brooding prime minister seem more people-friendly and accessible – Brown paused to talk with one Gillian Duffy. As a 65-year-old widow and lifelong Labor voter, Duffy might have seemed just the kind of constituent Brown needs to burnish his credentials with the average British voter.

Alas for Brown, Duffy also had the presence to ask about a concern that increasingly has been on the minds of British voters in recent years: the record-high rates of immigration, particularly from Eastern Europe, and its impact on British towns like Rochdale. As the cameras flashed, Brown obligingly nodded along, praising Duffy as a “very good woman.” In the safety of his official car, however, Brown lashed out at his aides for forcing him to endure what he called “a bigoted woman.” The whole exchange with Duffy was “ridiculous,” huffed a flustered Brown. And there the matter might have rested but for one detail that Brown in all his ire had overlooked: the microphone on his lapel was still live; the media captured his entire outburst.

In its striking condescension, Brown’s moment of unaware outage called to mind President Obama’s equally revealing assertion, during a 2008 presidential campaign stop, that “bitter” voters in small-town America “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Obama didn’t quite call these Americans bigots, but the implication was clear enough. But there the similarity ends. Politically, “Bigotgate,” which came on the day before the final British prime ministerial debate, will likely prove far more damaging for Brown than Obama’s off-the-cuff candor did for the president.

There are two main reasons for that. The first is that the scandal has served to underscore the considerable political weaknesses of Gordon Brown. After long dwelling in the shadow of the rhetorically deft Tony Blair, Brown has proved an inept successor. Not only does he lack Blair’s gift of eloquence, but he has no enthusiasm for the back-patting and handshaking that is the essence campaign politics and, hence, no talent for it. Little wonder that his calculated attempt to reach out to the average Briton has backfired in such spectacular fashion.

As expected, Brown has spent the hours post “Bigotgate” in a state of profuse apology, even making a 45-minute trip to beg forgiveness from the “bigoted woman” herself. He now insists that that was the wrong word to use and that he in fact shares Duffy’s concern about controlling immigration. Yet, these efforts to repair the damage have been clumsy and not at all credible. Bill Clinton may or may not have felt the voters’ pain, but at least he did a passable impression of empathy. A similar feat is clearly beyond Brown.

Bigotgate is also damaging because it reveals just how out of touch the UK’s governing elite is on an issue of paramount concern for voters: immigration. In worrying about the high rates of immigration, Duffy was in fact speaking for many in the country. Polls show that immigration is the second-most important topic for British voters, with 29 percent naming it as one of the most pressing issues facing the country.

Those concerns are well founded. Britain’s powers-that-be dramatically underestimated the impact of mass immigration into the UK over the past decade. In 2009 alone, Britain experienced a net migration – the sum total of immigration in and out of the country – of over 200,000. That figure, high for what is already considered one of Europe’s most crowded countries, was actually a decline from 2007, according to Britain’s Office for National Statistics, when the net migration reached 233,000. That was almost six times the rate of net migration that the UK had throughout the 1990s, when the rate was around 40,000-50,000 people per year. (The total population of the UK is around 61 million, 51 million of which resides in England.) In the context of this massive influx of foreign immigrants, it’s not surprising that Britons have started to wonder where it will all lead – whether in terms of social cohesion, quality of life, or the cost in taxes for the welfare and social services for which immigrants are eligible.

If Brown and Labor’s last-place standing in almost all of Britain’s major opinion poll is at least in part a reflection of that anxiety, then Bigotgate seems certain to contribute to the party’s defeat in the May 6 general election. Brown won’t lose solely because of immigration. But his inability to speak cogently about that issue – or even to tolerate its being raised by voters – is a good indication of why he and his party are so out of favor with the British public.

Jacob Laksin is managing editor of Front Page Magazine.

  • Kanwi

    Brown's gaffe is typical of political elitism and how those political elitists in Europe enact their scheming perceptions of the future on their "mushroomed" constiuents. Poor Gillian Duffy, if she thinks she has concerns now about immigration she and her fellow country people are in for a future shock. From early 2011 the Euro-Mediterranian Project commences. Basically the EU Offers the Populations of 9 Muslim Countries Free Movement of Goods, Services, Capital and 50 million people into the EU over and above the current country immigration levels. All this has it's origins in the Euro-Mediterranian Declaration of 1995 and ratified at a Foreign Ministers Conference .in Naples 2-3 Dec. 2003 The politicians are trying to re-create the old Roman Empire but as an islamitized Europe. God save America 'cause Europe and the likes of Gillian Duffy are already on the slippery slope.
    Go to http://www.euro-med.dk/partnership for the shocking truth.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/suprkufrB suprkufrB

    Sadly, although voters will desert the children of Arthur Scargill and Tony Benn in droves, they still won't have the sense to transfer their votes to the BNP, the only party which is actually able to notice the elephant in the room.
    The land of my birth, for which three of my family members died – by mid-century an islamic republic.
    O tempora! O mores!

  • davarino

    I wander if the good mr. Brown is working to castigate ms. Duffy like they did Joe the plumber. How dare she ask such a question and expose Brown for being such an elitist. She should have seen it as a priviledge to just shake his hand.

    Eventually the immigration will end because the island is only so big.

    Bobs your uncle : )

  • Democracy First

    I wonder if Geert Wilders, should he be elected PM of The Netherlands, can reverse the immigration aspect of the agreement.

  • USMCSniper

    The British ruling classes, who demand tthat one must attend Oxford or Cambridge to be sufficiently polished to guide the great umnwashed, and we are creating a similiar elitism in the USA where one must attend Harvard, Princeton, or Yale to be sufficiently polished to guide the great unwashed who, as he said, cling to their guns and religion.

  • gpcase

    In the book How the Irish Saved Civilization, the author tell the story of a Roman scholar who hoped to put together a magnificent encyclopedia to save all the knowledge that was being lost as one library after another was being destroyed during theseries of barbarian invasions. Years later as an old man, he found safety in some village and wished to complete his life's work, but found his students were unable to read what he had compiled. His last act was to write a spelling book.

    What will the industrialized nations look like in 50 years of redistribution of wealth, welfare statism, political correctness and open borders? The first 50 years has brought his unsurmountable debt, class warfare and millions of functionally illiterate graduates.

    • Glenn P.

      "50 years of redistribution of wealth." It's called democracy mate. You hope for despotism or corporate feudalism apparently. And live under the ego driven delusion YOU'D be a winner while most others will loose; a typical neo-con delusion. The welfare state is perfectly sustainable when managed properly and the most lucky and privileged meet their duty to pay tax proportional to income and wealth (since they took so much from workers/society its only fair (that's were their money comes from *shhh*)). The welfare state is being deliberately destroyed by wealthy minority of capitalist parasites and their throwback conservative cheer squads. It's our duty to defend the welfare state and other features of genuine democracy by definition.

  • Brian

    Because one poster makes a comment about the BNP the whole of FPM is a propaganda site for them? The author of this article doesn't even mention them.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/GaryRumain Gary Rumain

    And in latest news, Mrs. Duffy moves to Arizona and learns how to field dress a moose. :)

  • wongiranger

    I know FPM is an outlet for right of center views, but I'm disappointed to see it become a propaganda site for the nazi, fascist, Jew-hating BNP rascist scum. Many mainstream political party representatives are working to counter the islamist threat without succumbing to the gutter politics of the BNP. I suggest you read the writings of Michael Gove – the Conservative's education spokesman.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/imnokuffar imnokuffar

    Oscar Wilde's reputed last words, looking at the ugly curtains in his
    rented bedroom: "Either they go or I do."

    The Liebour Policy you are a bigot if you question immigration.

    The Tory Policy you are Racist if you question immigration and we don't have clue.

    The Lib Dim Policy you are a Racist anyway.

    The BNP Policy; it is correct to assert your rights as the indigenous people of your country in relation to who can settle in it and this is not Racist.

  • Jim C.

    If you are indeed serious about asking what the indutrialized nations will look like in 50 years–and it's a good question–you have to ask the question seriously. Open borders and welfare statism are legit concerns. Debt has been surmounted in the past, but we might ask what brought about this debt. "Millions of functionally illiterate graduates?" Where are you getting your metrics? Conservatives are weak as hell on the problems facing education precisely because of boneheaded generalizations, hoary scapegoats, and lack of personal responsibility on the topic. I've yet to hear from a conservative who seriously wanted to look at public education, whether it be the scope of the problem (how bad is it, really?) and why it is that way.

  • gpcase

    In the book How the Irish Saved Civilization, the author tell the story of a Roman scholar who hoped to put together a magnificent encyclopedia to save all the knowledge that was being lost as one library after another was being destroyed during theseries of barbarian invasions. Years later as an old man, he found safety in some village and wished to complete his life's work, but found his students were unable to read what he had compiled. His last act was to write a spelling book.

    What will the industrialized nations look like in 50 years of redistribution of wealth, welfare statism, political correctness and open borders? The first 50 years has brought his unsurmountable debt, class warfare and millions of functionally illiterate graduates.

  • wongiranger

    Of course FPM isn't a propaganda site for the BNP – I meant to show my disdain for a BNP supporter using FPM as a platform for supporting that organisation. The original article doesn't mention the BNP, however, it is elitist views prevalent the mainstream political parties here in the UK – as typified by Brown's off the cuff comment reported in the article, that is building support for the fascist extremists on the right and on the left – such as Galloway's Respect

  • Democracy First

    Frankly, you describe Liberals on education far better than conservatives.

    • gmt

      Agreed! Liberals don't care if the teacher's actually pass on meaningful skills as opposed to the touchy-feely drivel of lieberalist propoganda. I have seen politics at schools get the union do-nothing teachers rewarded and those who could actually teach, hounded.

      As for the question "Where are you getting your metrics?" I have to ask, why do you find it so hard to see what is happening in so many districts? Oh, wait… you have to actually be willing to open your eyes and follow the data, wherever the implications might lead (even if they undermine your cherished dogmas).

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/imnokuffar imnokuffar

    The Liebour Policy you are a Racist if you question immigration.

    The Tory Policy you are Racist if you question immigration and we don't have clue.

    The Lib Dim Policy you are a Racist anyway.

    The BNP Policy; it is correct to assert your rights as the indigenous people of your country in relation to who can settle in it and this is not Racist.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/GaryRumain Gary Rumain

      I agree.

  • R Sweeney

    A moment of lucid vision into the reality of liberal elite thinking.
    Now closed again beneath the lies.

  • Ordinary Fella

    I find it unbelievable that NOT ONE person has refered to the politicians of the 3 main partys as "Bigoted Racists".. Not one of them has the spine to tackle the problems facing our country. Clegg? He thinks the British are idiots labouring under a false sense of superiority who need to be put in their place…..Brown? his party withdrew an election candidate who had the nerve to make comments on immigration etc and this was capped off by Gordon (the real BIGOT here) calling one of his staunchest supporters a BIGOT……Cameron? Dave (hug a hoodie)….also removed one of his under studies for raising the issue of immigration etc and making (offensive) comments online…..They are all BIGOTS and their respective partys are full to the brim with Left Liberal, Politically Correct Morons….As they say,…."There are lies, damn lies, then there is the 3 main party's political agenda…..If comrade Dave wins do we get the referendum on joining the EU that he promised? He made plenty of noise about it when the trotsky party of NuLabour refused to give us all a vote…..PLEASE don't keep saying, "But what can we do?" "It's too late"…..RUBBISH

    • Glenn

      You ppl really don't know what bigotry is, do you? Bigotry is not opposing bigotry. All values are not equal. You bang on about PC, but all I EVER hear is attacks on PC, so where are all the PC advocates? Their aren't any as such, a few paper from some academics maybe, it isn't really a cogent "movement" is it? But a more or less common feature of advocacy for disparate issues seeking that public discourse maintain a minimum of respect for human dignity. Wouldn't surprise me if conservatives invented the term 'political correct' as a slogan against the left.

  • 080

    I liked it better when the Prime Minister was free to call the lady a "bigot" and she was free to call him a schmuck.

    • gmt

      Yes, let there be honesty, openness and full-disclosure in our discourses and let the chips fall where they may!

  • ÉamonnDublin

    I visited Bradford, in the north of England, last month. From what I could see, I might have been in Pakistan. Why have the British people allowed their country to be handed over to people who have nothing in common with them and who repeatedly say they are going to take over?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/johncarens johncarens

    When your society aborts away two-thirds of the past two or three generations, when the culture puts no value on kinship and family, when the mainstream entertainments laugh at your long-established social norms and traditions, when your children are encouraged to remain adolescents well into adult-hood, and when your representatives in Government create a vast levithan of a welfare-state that is completely underwater fiscally, you have a situation that implores immigration policies that welcome the low-skilled and fecund.

    This is the beginning of the Long Night in the western World, and folks like Gillian Duffy can see it from her vantage point on the ground, unlike the elites way up in their Ivory Towers, who can only see each other with their telescopes.

    • Glenn P.

      Yeah, it is "the beginning of the Long Night in the western World", because of rightwing regressives trying to drag us back to their fantasy of a golden past through radical rightwing ideology and policy. If only the Russian revolution hadn't been defeated by spine mensheviks and Stalin; we might not be unlearning the lessons of two world wars now because parasite capitalists live in a fantasy world where the massive suffering caused and perpetuated by capitalism (not the division of labor per se) is hidden and ignored or attributed to BS causes. It is neo-cons who will drag the world back to another world war; those supporting Israeli genocide, those supporting imperialism in the middle east, those pushing draconian "anti-terror" laws, anti-choice laws, religious insanity in schools, destruction of democratically owned and run services and institutions etc. Stupid and/or brainwashed conservatives are the greatest detriment our species has yet suffered.

  • Katy

    Thanks for the article. Pretty well written.
    Katy Perry