It’s rather ironic, given Gillian Duffy’s surname, that the Prime Minister ended up begging her for mercy.
As the television, radio and internet go bonkers over Gordon Brown’s encounter with the 65 year old Grandmother, I thought I’d point out a few things which seem to have been overlooked.
Firstly, when Mrs Duffy first made her remark about immigration, Gordon Brown’s initial reaction was to break out in that sly grin he makes whenever he thinks that someone he’s talking to is an idiot. In poker parlance, that’s a “tell” (more on the grin later). Rewatch the footage, and you can see the wheels turning in his head at that moment. Do it. Witness the thought process in action. “Oh God, why am I having to listen to this fool…?”
Secondly, the media’s obsession is with Brown’s use of the word “bigot” in the car to describe Mrs Duffy. However, the more damning contempt for her was shown before the bigot comment. Just listen to the way he says that having to talk to her was “ridiculous”. And then, most tellingly, when asked what she actually said, he puffs dismissively and says, “Everything”. This shows that the immigration excuse is just a convenient red herring. In fact, he disapproved of everything she said, simply because she didn’t agree with him. He wasn’t expecting to have to talk to an ordinary voter who had real issues with his policies. “Sue” was going to be in trouble for leading her over to him. All this only goes to reinforce the widely held view within Westminster, that you either agree with Brown or you’re wrong and not worthy of having an opinion.
Thirdly, on the Jeremy Vine show during his first apology, Brown went with the line that he said what he did because of Mrs Duffy’s question about immigration. Leaving aside the above, which calls that excuse into question, it’s notable that Brown was looking at his notes when answering, trying to construct a pre-conceived narrative. The Labour Party seemed to initially be in two minds about whether or not to start smearing Mrs Duffy because of her views on immigration. It’s a bit difficult to accuse a lifelong Labour voter of being a Tory stooge, though, and luckily for them, the Party quickly decided that such a strategy was going to backfire. The point is this: the difference in the language used in Brown’s answers when initially confronted with the evidence and then in Mandelson’s spin to the BBC, when compared to Brown’s later apologies, was really stark.
While delivering the story of his personal apology to Mrs Duffy after their meeting, Brown’s grin was back on overdrive. It was plastered all over his face for the entire statement. The other side of the grin “tell” is that it’s used whenever Brown is being disingenuous and knows that he’s in trouble. Yes, he was profoundly sorry – sorry that he got caught. Sorry that he knew it was going to have a big effect on his day’s campaigning. It’s obvious from the recording in the car, and from the Jeremy Vine interview, that it was only when the gravity of the situation became clear that he went into full-on damage control. To the credit of the Labour Party, the reaction was quick when it came. But it was a reaction to avert more disaster, not a pro-active heartfelt penitent moment as the Prime Minister would like you to believe.
But what of everyone’s favourite moral compass: Denis MacShane, my case study for tribalism? Yes, he of the “same old party” comments when Tory council candidates were arrested for electoral fraud, and a bizarre Tweet last night when he slagged off Conservative blogger Iain Dale for holding strong views about sacked homophobe Philip Lardner. At the time of writing it may surprise you to learn that, since the Gillian Duffy incident, MacShane’s Twitter feed has been strangely inactive. One suspects that if it had been David Cameron insulting a pensioner, he might have had something to say. The silence is deafening. Tribalism continues unabated, the moral compasses coming with on/off switches depending on who’s said what. And isn’t that the very definition of bigotry?