Thursday 29 April 2010

Brown's blunder

I was going to add write something long and portentous about Bigotgate this morning, but as very occasionally happens, commentators in the mainstream media have got in first and said most of what I wanted to say. Andrew Rawnsley is good on what the gaffe tells us about Gordon, John Harris analyses the incident as a reflection of the current state of Labour, and Steve Richards provides some insight into how on earth Brown and his aides could let it happen.

I'll just add a few thoughts of my own.

Above all, the affair leaves me with a profound feeling of sadness. Sadness mostly for Gillian Duffy, whose life has been turned upside down by a ravenous media machine, and whose look of deep hurt and bewilderment when reporters conveyed what Brown had said about her is my abiding image from yesterday. Sadness, too, for the thousands of Labour party workers whose desperate efforts to claw back some ground in this peculiar election have been betrayed by their leader.

And I suppose some sadness for Brown, whose brief time in the top office has been overshadowed by disappointment and decline. A BBC reporter yesterday described him as a Nixonian figure, and you can see what he meant: hungry for power, resentful of those who denied it to him for so long, then when he finally achieved his ambition, brought down by his own tragic flaws. And Gordon with his waxen smile facing telegenic, smooth-talking Nick and Dave in debate is a bit like Tricky Dicky sweating under the lights in the debates with Kennedy in 1960.

The key difference, of course, is that neither Cameron nor Clegg is JFK. The former was a Thatcherite apparatchik, forced to tack to the centre by the success of Tony Blair, who now has the gall to describe New Labour's period in office as 'thirteen years of failure'. The latter is a political lightweight who (as yesterday's halting, bumbling interview on Radio 4's PM confirmed) is not ready for high office. And, pace Andrew Sullivan (of whose blog I am an avid and usually admiring reader, but whose off-key comments on this election have shown how perilous it is to analyse political events 3,000 miles away - it will certainly make me warier of commenting on events in the USA), Clegg is no Obama (I liked this from Richard Adams). In a time of recession and war, are we seriously thinking of trusting the nation's future to an unexamined unknown just because he performs well on TV?

There's a temptation to dismiss the frenzy surrounding Gordon's gaffe as so much media froth. But, like it or not, in a media-driven election, when the issues seem so complex and the differences between the parties so slight, these stories often help to crystallise opinion more than policy debates. As with Barack Obama's careless campaign remark about people 'clinging to guns and religion', which made him look like a liberal elitist, they tend to confirm existing suspicions rather than dramatically changing opinions. Brown's treatment of Gillian Duffy seemed to bear out rumours about a quick-tempered and defensive leader with a tendency to blame others for his own blunders. At the same time, the incident appeared to provide a dramatic enactment of one of the underlying themes of this election: that Labour has lost touch with its working-class base and become tone-deaf to its concerns.

Obama had months to recover from his gaffe, and he was already ahead in the polls. The latest opinion surveys show Labour trailing behind the Tories and the Lib Dems, and the election is only a week from today. Brown's apology apparently came too late to win Mrs.Duffy back to Labour, and whatever remedial work the party undertakes in the next few days may not be enough to win back the majority of the population.


Minnie said...

I think you've covered the incident very ably, nonetheless. But please (pleasepleaseplease cubed) could we have a moratorium on the suffic '-gate'? Cheers!
Incident reported on French telly, & I too felt for Mrs Duffy: bad enough to hear such a thing; x 10 worse to be seen to do so spotlit by media. Hateful - all the more so, as patently undeserved by Mrs D.
It's taken seriously because (a) as you indicate, Brown's the top dog and should know better (esp given thoroughly dodgy ratings + the angry public mood), + (b) we all know what most parliamentarians think of the electorate - at the very best, we're simply a means to an end (whether that is a foreign war, a series of hefty mortgage subsidies or a duck-island). We might know; but we'd rather not have the fact thus shoved down our throats. I agree: it has done enormous damage.
PS Your WordVerif is saying 'hypes' - a combination of 'hoist' & 'pétard' might be more apposite.

Martin said...

Thanks, Minnie. Sorry - I shouldn't have removed the 'scare quotes' around 'Bigotgate', should I? I waited all afternoon to see what name the media would attach to the affair, and was disappointed that the tired '-gate' suffix was resorted to. The War of Jennifer's Ear in an earlier campaign was more inventive...sorry, I can't think of a punning alternative for this one.

Minnie said...

You will think of an alternative, I hope! Thanks for the clarification (I did think it unlike you to fall for the old, tired -gate stuff!) - and bon weekend.

Julie said...

Dear Martin (if I may),

Thanks for including my blog in your blogroll.

Best wishes,

Martin said...

No problem, Julie. We Blairophiles need to stick together. I discovered your blog thanks to your normblog profile. Blairite, anti-fundamentalist, laughing at Galloway - what's not to like? Keep up the great work!