‘Should have never put me with that woman’-gate

10:35 am - April 29th 2010

by Chris Dillow    

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Most people, I fear, are missing the point about “Bigotgate”. What’s truly appalling about Brown’s words is not that he called Ms Duffy a bigot: as Paul and Matthew point out, all candidates have badmouthed voters behind their backs at sometime, maybe with less justification than Brown had. Instead, Brown’s most outrageous remark was:

Should never have put me with that woman.

But Ms Duffy was, sadly, a fairly typical voter. If you don’t want to meet voters, you shouldn’t become a politician – unless, of course, your lust for power overcomes your aversion to genuine politics.

What’s more, anyone with half a brain could have said a lot to placate her incoherent concern about east European immigrants. Such immigrants are contributing to the public finances and have helped the economy grow whilst keeping inflation down.

And east European migration is not new; Poles have lived in England for decades with no ill-effects. Far from it; they made a significant contribution in the Battle of Britain.

That Brown did not say any of this merely highlights the cretinism of his immigration policy. On the one hand he’s pandered to bigotry and failed to make a case for immigration, but on the other hand he’s just given grist to the mill of every moron who bleats that “you can’t talk about immigration.“

What we saw yesterday, then, were two features of Brown’s Labour. There was the lofty managerialist aversion to arguing with real people; as Fraser says, the sight of someone in a Jag slagging off ordinary folk will resonate. And there was the inability to make a coherent argument for a just and proper cause.

But there’s another thing – Brown’s felt need to apologize. There are many reasons not to have done this. He should have debated properly with her instead. But having failed to do so, he should either have stuck to his guns, or figured that prolonging the story would merely do more damage. Instead, he rushed off to grovel.

This, I suspect, reveals much about his “moral compass.” He figured: “I sinned so I must repent.” This suggests that, to him, morality is a matter of external rules, any breach of which is to be punished.

We can, however, contrast this to conceptions of virtue ethics. A virtuous politician might have argued on the spot, or decided he was right to call her a bigot, or made the tactical calculation that the apology would lose more votes.

Herein, however, lies perhaps one root of Labour’s illiberalism. Brown fails to see the possibility that people might, in the right circumstances, behave virtuously – as citizens or as public servants – and so their behaviour, like his, must be constrained by rules. 

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About the author
Chris Dillow is a regular contributor and former City economist, now an economics writer. He is also the author of The End of Politics: New Labour and the Folly of Managerialism. Also at: Stumbling and Mumbling
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Reader comments

1. astateofdenmark

I thought the ‘who says she was Labour’ remark was the worst. Labour can’t afford to lose voters who live in terraces in Northern Towns and Cities. There’ll be little left if they do.

2. Mike Killingworth

I will ask Sunny to re-run my “after Labour” articles from a couple of years ago, early in the week after the election. He re-titled them so I can’t find them in the LC archive.


I disagree. Referring to Mrs Duffy a bigot was appalling. He might as well have called her a thick peasant.

On a lighter, yet related, note I just saw this posting on an article in CiF and it made me laugh …………………………..

For the last time, credit goes to 150 Wat Tyler for this posting on M Martin Bright’s blog at the Spectator’s website:

I’ve been going out with a girl,
her name is Gilly
But last night she said to me,
when we were watching telly (This is what she said)

She said listen Gord, I love you
But there’s this bloke, I fancy
I don’t want to two time you,
so it’s the end for you and me

Who’s this bloke I asked her
Griffin, she replied
Not THAT puff, I said dismayed
Yes but he’s no puff she cried

(He’s more of a man than you’ll ever be)

Here we go, two three four

I was so upset that I cried,
all the way to the chip shop

When I came out there was Griffin,
standing at the bus stop

(And guess who was with him? Yeah, Gilly, and they were both laughing at me)

Oh, she is cruel and heartless
to pack me for Griffin
Just cos he’s better looking than me
Just cos he’s cool and BNP

But they know I’m a moron
They know I’m a moron
They know I’m a moron
They know I’m a moron

Yeah yeah, it’s not fair
Yeah yeah, it’s not fair

(from the Requiem in D Minor

I’m not even sure Brown was right to call her a bigot. I regularly meet people who express similar concerns. They may seldom meet eastern europeans but they read it in the papers. Therein lies the bigotry! Of course, no politician seems to have the guts to take them on, let alone Brown.

I hope that people are politically sophisticated enough to recognise that all party leaders could easily fall foul to similar gaffes. More importantly I think this demonstrates the gap between the public currently being wooed by politicians and the political world they will fall back into as soon as the election is over.


Whilst all party leaders might theoretically fall for such gaffes, it takes a particular temprament to react like that to a pleasant and reasonable exchange, where the other person involved does not totally agree with you but is generally supportive. And I think that is the issue here, not that it was a gaffe. It was a totally disproportionate gaffe, about a non-issue, demonstrating a worrying level of rage. It also suggests a lot of stories about Mr Brown’s behaviour were in fact correct. So the gaffe itself is less significant than what it shows. And I doubt every leader would show the same (does that nice Mr Clegg even get mad)?

This is pure hum-bug, it isn’t what Brown said about Ms Duffy, I’m sure all politicians have made derogatory remarks about people they meet, it’s his sheer carelessness in not ensuring his microphone was switched-off. If, after all this time in public-office, he makes such an obvious error, he is certainly not up for the job as PM.

Re: 6

The solution is obviously to put microphones in No. 10 that people can listen to at any time on a local rate number!

Does anyone think its suspicious that it was a SKY microphone that was left on. Maybe they do it all the time waiting for him to slip up.

9. Dick the Prick

He’s a vain little man who reacts like all vain little men when they don’t get their way. I genuinely feel sorry for Labour – it shouldn’t have been like this.

Chris Dillow, OP

What’s more, anyone with half a brain could have said a lot to placate her incoherent concern.

And there was the inability to make a coherent argument for a just and proper cause

I don’t think that is true, to be honest, Chris. Immigration, like every other political hot potato, is a lot more complex than the ‘Mrs Duffys’ of this World realise or accept.

I have met a lot of sixty plus year old Labour voters who hold deeply entrenched, deeply racist views, normal prefaced by ‘I am not racist but…’, followed by some kind of tabloid misrepresentation of a case and a condemnation. These people have been force fed these type of stories for God knows how long and they are unlikely to be placated with a pavement answer of thirty seconds. There are 35 million voters in this Country, there is simply no way that he can talk to half, never mind all of them.

How can Brown or anyone else tackle a person with every story about ‘asylum seeker ate my swan’ right up to ‘drunk driver immigrant’ and everything in between etched into every neuron in the head and explain his immigration policy in detail.

The ‘Mrs Duffys’ of this World use terms like immigrant/asylum seekers/illegal immigrants AND ethnic minorities as general interchangeable terms to label people. When someone says there are too many ‘immigrants’ here, if you want to placate them. I know of people who consider third of fourth generation ethnic minorities as immigrants for example. If Brown meets someone like that, how can he possibly change his/her mindset with a forty second soundbite? Why even make the attempt?

On the other hand I know of people who don’t consider Americans, Australians or even French as ‘immigrants’ in this context. There are 300,000 French living within the M25, yet I never hear about stopping them coming in either. Nor have I ever heard about the number of Aussies who overstay their visa as being required to be rounded up and sent home, even though the ‘come over here, steal our jobs, have children, use the NHS and take up housing, impose their culture on us, start up ghettoes and fail the cricket test too’, If police had shot an overstaying Aussie, I wonder if he would have been labelled as ‘bringing it on himself?’

When someone demands to know ‘the truth’ about immigration, they do not mean the facts, the merely want their prejudices confirmed.

The woman’s remarks weren’t bigoted. Objecting to immigration (and that she specified which immigration means nothing, since Eastern European immigration is what a lot of people see) is not bigoted if you genuinely consider it to be a cause of various problems. That you are wrong or that there is another way to look at things is neither here nor there.

This is the point of politics, is it not? Face to face politics particularly.

I agree that Gordon Brown’s remarks about being brought someone who asked that question are objectionable, but what I found worst was that Gordon couldn’t muster the backbone to give a straightforward Left answer. Even the Lib-Dems can do better. Meanwhile the Right gets to crow that every time they mention immigration, we call them all bigots (which they are) – and they can hide behind Gillian Duffy, who, judging by her subsequent decision to vote Labour, after Gordon answered her but before learning of Gordon’s gaffe, was not bigoted, just misinformed.

Chris Dillow, do you think that it might just be possible that Brown not wanting to be put with that woman and apologising afterwards might be less to do with some deep-seated element of his being and political philosophy, and more to do with the whole, er, wanting to do well in an election thing?

Then again, if he had just refused to me miked up this would never have been broadcast.

It is just like out of The thick of it.

I doubt there’s a politician who hasn’t called a voter a thick peasant once safely out of earshot. What astounds me is that no-one in the car spotted that the mike was still attached and that someone thought going to the woman’s house was a good way of killing the story. We used to be quite good at this.

And in what capacity do you meet a lot of Ms Duffys, and how do you know they are Labour voters? Perhaps they receive their racists, bigotted views from that nice Mr. Murdoch, or I could be mistaken, aren’t most of his readers tories?

Yes Chris. Immigration has kept inflation down by keeping (lower skilled) wages down.
(Not professionals’ wages down – heaven forfend!)

I don’t know if that’s something Brown would want to boast about?


I think the fact Mrs Duffy said she was going to vote Labour might be a clue she was a Labour voter. And the most racist papers are the Mail and the Express (the Sun and Times are many things, but not noticably racist in comparison), not owned by News International.


Although I doubt Mrs Duffy is a bigot, why does voting Labour make you less likely to be bigotted? Every racist I know (a small number) either supports Labour, or has done before migrating to BNP, English Democrats or something to the left (anyone else ever noticed that racists are generally quite clear about their political alliegances – I could not do a similiar breakdown for atheists I know for example). I did know some Conservative-supporting racists, to be fair, but they have all passed away now. In both cases they come/came from low-educated backgrounds, live in the same area their family has for several generations, and see outsiders as a threat. I suspect that is the origin of race-based bigotry, regardless of origins.

Let’s try to see it from Gordon’s viewpoint.

What made this whole episode so painful was that we were presented with the obvious frustration of a highly educated and intelligent man who had been brought face to face with the reality that his whole future would depend on the actions of a bunch of thick peasants. People that, in normal circumstances, he would cross the street to avoid.

And what made it worse was for him was that the equality agenda he has
philosophically and emotionally signed up to that required him to pander to this stupid woman as if she were his intellectual and social equal and her ignorant, uninformed opinions had an equivalent value to his own.

So when she appeared moderately ungrateful for all the carefully engineered policies he had put in place to improve her life, his anger would have increased. Why couldn’t she just shut the fuck up and keep her stupid prejudices to herself for the appalling five minutes fate had determined they had to share the same air?

All she was required to do was follow the clear logic of what was in her own best interests and vote for him next week, not raise awkward issues, the nuances of which she lacked the sophistication to understand

So it wasn’t Gillian Duffy that Gordon was mad at, it was the democratic process itself.

And who would argue he was wrong?

@17 Is this the same Sun that makes up stories about immigrants eating swans and muslims bus drivers kicking people of their bus so they can pray.

@17 – simply put, most of the working class, labour-supporting voters I’ve ever met – even when they said they were thinking about voting BNP – have been concerned about many more things of which immigration is just one part of the iceberg. And these things don’t involve generalising to whole peoples, or colours, or sexualities etc. And, as Labour and Socialist Party fightbacks against the BNP have shown, when the hard Left gets its act together, the ‘bigoted’ elements of the incipient worldview formed by the pressures of being working class in a time of great wealth redistribution upwards is swept away easily enough.

That’s why I generally regard the Labourite working class as not bigoted. That has been my experience.

I know a great many Tories who are racially prejudiced and would quite happily vote BNP if it didn’t have Nazi connotations (which causes problems since many of them place great emphasis on their relatives who died in the last world war). Moreover, bearing in mind just how many gaffes the Tories make when it comes to stuff like gay rights and immigration, and the history and culture of the Tory Party, it’s easier to see a connection between voting Tory and being a bigot than not. Also consider the decline of the National Front and the link to the renewal of the right-wing credentials of the Tory Party, and much more strident rhetoric under Thatcher.

Not to say that the institutions of Labour or labour don’t have their moments – sexist, racist or whatever form of bigotry you care to mention. But by and large, even BNP voters seem like reasonable people who, shown in more than words a better alternative, are easily dissuaded from their stand and have only adopted racism (etc) instrumentally.

@18 – I would, Pagar. Check this out; it’s mine and grapples with some of your underlying points: http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/2010/04/27/musings-on-stephen-hawking-e-t-celebrity-and-blogging/


Whilst there are horror stories, compare the Sun’s normal tone (yes, I know it’s skin tone on page 3) to that of the downright horrible Express and Mail, which do assume immigrants are evil. The Sun (and the Mirror) have horror stories about immigrants, as they do about all sorts of things (both major in paedophiles at the moment), but they are not an assumed evil in the way the more ‘up-market’ tabloids portray them. There is certainly no News International policy of making up an immigrant threat (perhaps logically for a company founded by an Australian and run by an American national…); I am not so sure about the Mail though.

Was the swan story made up then? Missed that revelation. But as I tend not to believe anything read only in a tabloid, not a major problem.


You are right about the tone compared to the Express and Mail when I think about it, I can still bear to read the News of the World on Sunday (mainly to see what Carole malones banging on about and check my dream team) but wouldn’t touch the mail with a barge pole.

As for the swans, total BS I think.


Its a word doc download but its safe…

Dave (in response to 20),

“That’s why I generally regard the Labourite working class as not bigoted. That has been my experience.”

And mine. Although I do not think the term Labourite working class explains anything other than why Mr Brown was shocked that a Labour supporter might have differing views than him – it is a term that assumes because of background these people will vote in a certain way.

But my sample was not Labour supporters or working class; it was racists. So as you say, most labour supporters or working class folk are not racist, but some are. As are some Conservatives and middle class folk (although I supect the worst cases are in the golf-club wing of UKIP nowadays), although I haven’t met any of these. Considering some of the stupid comments about Israel and the Jewish lobby coming out of the Liberal Democrats, could I suggest there may even be some forms of racism there.

However, what I would say is that the BNP does have a racist message, and that plays best amongst traditonal Labour voters (perhaps because of its class angle? But that is not the point). And that racist violence by white people is generally committed by members of the working class, and is most concentrated in areas that normally vote Labour. That there are those who support left-wing parties (and presumably by definition not liberal-left) who are racist cannot be denied. So to try and ignore the problem totally is wrong.

Mind you, Mrs Duffy was not racist that I could see. Just concerned about an influx of outsiders, who she would probably like on an individual basis (unless I’ve missed Labour’s spin machine digging up a nasty side there). And that appears to be a widely held view (personally I go with free immigration, but that’s not going to be popular). Why Mr Brown assumed she was (or bigotted anyway) I have no idea.

Dave (in response to 23),

Thanks. Links not working for me though, but I’m happy to accept that story wasn’t true – not enough indications of immigrants being savaged by angry swans, which in my experience is what normally happens when you mess with them (swans, not immigrants – although that might cut down on racist incidents).

26. Mike Killingworth

[10] Excellent comment, Jim. Hope to see you here more often.

There is one other point I would make about the Mrs D’s of this world. She described herself as an “ordinary” person, and her other remarks made it clear that part of being “ordinary” is that she’s never been to university or college.

Education level is the great undiscussed fault line in our culture. The indigenous working class has always been schizophrenic about it – miners were traditionally pro-education, dockers against it. It might be enlightening to hear Mrs D’s views on such institutions as adult evening classes, the Open University and so on. My guess is that she would say they were “not for the likes of me” by which she means, quite simply, that she doesn’t have the capacity, desire or energy to take advantage of them herself.

There are millions of Mrs D’s amongst Labour’s traditional vote. One of the (few) intersects between us Liberal Conspirators and Blairism was his cry of “education, education, education”. But what that cry did – and does – among things, is to tell the Mrs D’s of this world that they’re useless, have nothing to offer society, have no right to self-respect.

Me neither, must have translated across incorrectly.

Basically it was a made up story, based on a police report that didnt exist. They did print a correction after the PCC stepped in after 5 months (on page 42)!

It’s all about how utterly weird he is.

Some old lady came up to him and let off a bit of steam about the (mainly) national debt, cuts and immigration. She asked where the East Europeans are flocking from. Pretty obvious, really. But most people are unsettled by change and other (different looking/sounding) people. That’s just human nature, especially with old people.

He reassured her, made her feel good again about “being” Labour. But to his weird mind, it was a disaster. She was a bigotted woman because she mentioned immigration in a non-fawning way.

But even that wasn’t the end of it. Instead of a proper apology, he gave a lame half-apology through gritted teeth even after he’d heard the tape. He’s a disaster.

29. Chris Baldwin

He said it in private. It’s none of our business.

30. Nick Cohen is a Tory

“I did know some Conservative-supporting racists, to be fair, but they have all passed away now. In both cases they come/came from low-educated backgrounds, live in the same area their family has for several generations, and see outsiders as a threat. I suspect that is the origin of race-based bigotry, regardless of origins.”
You must live a very sheltered life. Go to your local Golf club or rugby club, you might just meet some very rascist Tories. Honest.

16cjcjc.Correct. In addition , it enables those nice middle class metropolitan types to haver cheaper building work done on their homes. Was’nt Mrs Duffy’s late husband a decorator?

As the Guardian has a problem with a lack of money why cannot they import some cheaper staff from India. I am sure it would be possible to hire far more erudite staff, at far lower salaries from Kerala or Bengal.


I don’t play golf or rugby, or watch either live, so strangely enough I don’t meet the people in question.

Although a quick survey of the rugby-club members in my office reveals an Irish socialist (his definition, not mine), a member of the Liberal Democrats and two people I believe to be Conservative supporters, none of whom are racist, so I cannot automatically assume rugby club = racist (plus where I grew up, rugby clubs would likely be racist, but they were not middle class…). You may be showing prejudices here, unless you happen to have experience of such things (I know I reflect the same prejudice about golf clubs above, but I don’t know any racist golfers either to be fair, so perhaps I should appologise for my ignorant peddling of sterotypes).

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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