Gordon Brown’s “bitter” moment

The biggest gaffe yet of the British general election was uttered today, and it’s potentially devastating for Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Labour’s chances. The British media, long salivating for its first taste of blood, is not surprisingly relishing the chance to stir up the frenzy. After an impromptu conversation with voter Gillian Duffy in ...

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The biggest gaffe yet of the British general election was uttered today, and it's potentially devastating for Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Labour's chances. The British media, long salivating for its first taste of blood, is not surprisingly relishing the chance to stir up the frenzy.

After an impromptu conversation with voter Gillian Duffy in at a campaign stop Rochdale, during which she expressed her concerns about British immigration policy rather bluntly, Brown is heard on a still-hot microphone calling the conversation a "disaster," and describing Duffy as a "bigoted woman." Yikes. Here's the full exchange, courtesy of the New York Times:

"You can't say anything about the immigrants, all these Eastern Europeans coming in, where are they flocking from?" 

The biggest gaffe yet of the British general election was uttered today, and it’s potentially devastating for Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Labour’s chances. The British media, long salivating for its first taste of blood, is not surprisingly relishing the chance to stir up the frenzy.

After an impromptu conversation with voter Gillian Duffy in at a campaign stop Rochdale, during which she expressed her concerns about British immigration policy rather bluntly, Brown is heard on a still-hot microphone calling the conversation a "disaster," and describing Duffy as a "bigoted woman." Yikes. Here’s the full exchange, courtesy of the New York Times:

"You can’t say anything about the immigrants, all these Eastern Europeans coming in, where are they flocking from?" 

The episode brings to light President Barack Obama’s infamous "bitter" remarks regarding small-town voters before the Pennsylvania democratic presidential primary in 2008. But Obama was merely guilty of poor word choice, not outright hostility — and the substantive point he made was largely accurate. Brown, on the other hand, has been caught disparaging a voter immediately after hearing her policy concerns.

British journalists are claiming this will cripple Brown, as voters with similar concerns will now wonder whether the prime minister thinks they’re bigots as well. But to be fair, if Duffy’s comment  wasn’t bigoted, it was certainly quite close to crossing that line.

Brown has now personally apologized to Duffy (it is said it went quite well), and reporters are camped on her front stoop, waiting for her response. More to come.

UPDATE: It’s pointed out on Andrew Sparrow’s live blog for the Guardian that Brown’s exact quote was "sort of a bigoted woman," which is somewhat less harsh.

Sparrow also referenced a Channel 4 news report, during which a Rochdale resident used a variation of the "having said that" line:

One woman says: "I’m not racist, but I admit they’re taking all the jobs and houses – there’s several of them round here."

Lastly, actor Simon Pegg has given his (rather amusing) spin, claiming on his Twitter feed to have discovered the journalist responsible for picking up Brown’s miscue.

Andrew Swift is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.

More from Foreign Policy

A propaganda poster from the 1960s shows Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
A propaganda poster from the 1960s shows Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

Xi’s Great Leap Backward

Beijing is running out of recipes for its looming jobs crisis—and reviving Mao-era policies.

A textile worker at the Maxport factory in Hanoi on Sept. 21, 2021.
A textile worker at the Maxport factory in Hanoi on Sept. 21, 2021.

Companies Are Fleeing China for Friendlier Shores

“Friendshoring” is the new trend as geopolitics bites.

German children stand atop building rubble in Berlin in 1948.
German children stand atop building rubble in Berlin in 1948.

Why Superpower Crises Are a Good Thing

A new era of tensions will focus minds and break logjams, as Cold War history shows.

Vacationers sit on a beach in Greece.
Vacationers sit on a beach in Greece.

The Mediterranean as We Know It Is Vanishing

From Saint-Tropez to Amalfi, the region’s most attractive tourist destinations are also its most vulnerable.