Leader will have price to pay for letting off steam
Published 29/04/2010 | 05:00
THERE IS probably not a politician in history who has never been tempted to say what Gordon Brown said yesterday about a member of the public.
Mr Brown's mistakes, and they were serious, were to yield to temptation, and to forget that he was still wearing a microphone before he let off steam.
Blaming his aides for what he called a "disaster" and, worse, calling Gillian Duffy a "bigoted woman" may well go down as the gaffe of this campaign. There will be a cost.
How high depends on the response of the rest of the voting public. Mr Brown's own response was to make an apology on the radio and then return to Rochdale to prostrate himself, metaphorically, before Mrs Duffy in her own home. Forty minutes later, he described himself as a "penitent sinner" and said that his apology had been accepted.
Mr Brown's unguarded remarks have the potential to cause particular electoral damage. First, because they chime with the prime minister's reputation for being rude and short-tempered. Second, because they reinforce a widespread view of politicians as contemptuous of those whose votes they must periodically solicit. And, third, because they demonstrate the extent to which campaigning has become stage-managed.
Mr Brown took it for granted that he should have been protected from awkward customers.
If there were more encounters between party leaders and "ordinary" voters, perhaps both sides would be better able to take the less-than-perfect ones in their stride.
That the other parties will continue to make hay with Mr Brown's gaffe must be taken for granted. Yet how many people can honestly say they have not let off steam in a similar way?
You can argue that, as prime minister, Mr Brown has a responsibility to be more careful, even that someone in his position should not even think such thoughts. Our view is that this moment has to be set in the wider context and kept in proportion. (© Independent News Service)