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Wednesday, April 28, 2010 

The logical conclusion of Labour's bigotry.

There's only one real consolation that Labour activists especially can take from today's unparalleled clusterfuck: that Brown didn't say something much much worse about the instantly famous Gillian Duffy, as doubtless he has about other people he's met while on the campaign trail once they've gone, and as almost certainly every politician and canvasser has. In what seemed like a real time episode of The Thick of It, except without the jokes or pathos, we went in a matter of hours from an average Labour voter being branded a "bigoted woman" to the prejudiced pensioner in question calling upon the services of a PR firm to handle the demands of the media.

Most bewildering of all was that the 5-minute long conversation Brown had with Duffy wasn't anywhere near the disaster which he felt it had been. He in fact handled her questions well, only slipping up on the immigration question which he didn't attempt to properly answer, but then Duffy's observation that

You can't say anything about the immigrants because you're saying that you're... all these Eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?

was not exactly the most eloquent of sentiments. It was, to use the horrendous political terminology for a event which isn't stage-managed, thought through and thoroughly vetted, approaching "genuine". The real poser, for me at least, is just why Brown felt it had gone so badly; if anything, it wouldn't have been used for the reason that it was well within his comfort zone. Without wanting to descend into amateur psychoanalysis, if Brown is currently that uncertain, that incapable of knowing when he's coming across well, how is he managing to keep going with the minituae of campaigning in general? Is this the real reason why he seems to be spending almost all of his time visiting schools and other "neutral" places where he's unlikely to find any views more forcefully expressed than those of Mrs Duffy's?

To judge by the completely unscientific method of the BBC's brief canvassing of views in Rochdale itself, this might not be the catastrophe that Brown, Labour and the media think it is. If Duffy's views actually had been bigoted, then who knows, Brown might even have gained some legitimacy from saying so, even if it wasn't to her face. If Blair had commented in a similar fashion about Sharon Storer, the most obvious recent comparison, then you could have also have understood it more. That was the kind of haranguing, which while cathartic for Storer, was something that Blair himself could do almost nothing personally about, and which The Thick of It satirised effectively in the episode in which Hugh Abbott was confronted by the woman demanding to know whether he'd ever had to clean up his own mother's piss. This though was just the average sentiment of an ordinary person (sorry Justin), someone you would have imagined that Brown has talked to repeatedly over the length of the campaign. He might well have felt the same afterwards, and said much the same, and it could have just been the build-up and frustration of repeating himself over and over again. He might well have felt, like Hugh Abbott, that ordinary voters are sometimes the equivalent of an alien species; the Westminster bubble can do that to a politician, especially a prime minister or minister that doesn't do much in the way of constituency work. But after three weeks?

In a way, this has been Brown and Labour's downfall in a way much more than just the obvious. While the view that you can't talk about immigration without being branded a racist or a bigot has always been nonsense, as we've talked about little else for decades as needs to be repeatedly pointed out, this has been a government that has deliberately time and again gone out of its way to appease the right-wing consensus on immigration. We've had not only David Blunkett talking of local services being "swamped", but the open equation of those seeking asylum both with criminals and with "illegal" migration, as well as open collusion with the likes of the Sun over "asylum madness" campaigns. It has to be remembered that the wave of eastern European migration that we've had since 2004 did not happen, as the tabloids would have us believe by design, but by mistake: the estimate of only 14,000 coming to work here was based on the assumption that all European countries would open their borders at the same time, only for all other EU member states apart from the UK, Ireland and Sweden to delay doing so. Why didn't Brown, instead of glibly asserting that the same number had left the country when they haven't, make the case for migration, not just in the crude economic sense, but in the terms that it has enriched both our nation and culture to such a degree that it has become completely unmeasurable? By not defending immigration Labour has connived in exactly the truly bigoted Little Englander attitude which says the country is full and that the drawbridge must be immediately slammed shut. It has reaped what it has sown.

It's not then going to about how Brown was two-faced, doing exactly what Labour have been alleging David Cameron has been doing in its adverts when the camera isn't on, but rather on how he's proved the point once and for all that you can't say anything about immigration, even something relatively mild, without a politician privately regarding you as a terrible bigot. This is going to be framed in the terms of what the "little" person thinks against the behemoth which is both the establishment and the Westminster consensus, which is laughably what that very pillar of it, the right-wing tabloid press, has always tried to set it as. It's what the chattering classes, the Guardianistas and those who will never feel the effects of it have imposed on the rest of the nation, and at last the bare truth has been exposed. It's going to result in the last seven days of the campaign doubtless being centred around the immigration question, with the Sun especially pouring that old favourite, the bucket of shit, all over Brown's head.

If the days events had ended with Brown, head in hands on Radio 2 realising what he'd done, it might just have been salvageable. Instead we have Brown emerging from Duffy's house, grinning from ear to ear, looking like a mixture of Richard Nixon and Chamberlain declaring that he had a piece of paper with Herr Hitler's signature on it that meant peace in our time, delivering only the second most insincere statement of the day (Alastair Campbell's blog sadly doesn't seem to have permalinks), about being a "penitent sinner". Making confident predictions about this election has so far proved to be a fool's game, but it's difficult to shake the feeling that Gordon Brown might just have sealed the Labour party's third place finish.

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"The Thick Of It", for sure, but what surprised me was that Brown didn't utter one obscenity or even a profanity. And strange that these remarks were caught on a microphone provided by Sky, whose camera crew appears to have forgotten to remove it. Heat of the moment? Anyway, serves him right for collaborating with the Murdoch machine.

It is annoying that the MSM focus on a trifling news story whilst ignoring a bigger story.

Election row in Britain over prisoners barred from voting

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