For international readers - Gordon Brown is our PM and is hot on the campaign trail for next week's general election.
A few days ago he met with a Labour voter, had a discussion, then forgot to turn his microphone off when he got in the car to leave. His private conversation was then broadcast and we heard him call her "a sort of bigoted woman". The media are having a field day with this. Incidentally (or not) it was a Sky news mic he was hooked up to. Sky news, owned by Rupert Murdoch, the biggest Tory supporter there is. Owner of the Sun newspaper, widely credited with giving us several Tory victories and the 1997 Labour victory. Influential man, hates the Labour party. What a surprise his company leaked the private conversation.
A full transcript of the conversation is here. An edited version is here but it includes some of Brown's reactions and speeches after the conversation. A clip showing Brown and Duffy's conversation is here. A clip showing her response to Brown's comments is here.
It's taken me a few days to collect my thoughts on this . From the transcript (emphasis mine):
We had it drummed in when I was a child with mine … it was education, health service and looking after the people who are vulnerable. But there's too many people now who are vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can't get claim, can't get it.
But they shouldn't be doing that, there is no life on the dole for people any more. If you are unemployed you've got to go back to work. It's six months.
You can't say anything about the immigrants because you're saying that you're … but all these eastern European what are coming in, where are they flocking from?
A million people come from Europe but a maillion have gone into Europe. You do know that there's a lot of British people staying in Europe as well.
I'm not quite certain why she brought up Eastern European Immigrants in this conversation - it seems that she is blaming them for some of society's ills, given that she is discussing them in the same context as other societal problems. Use of the word 'flocking' is provides and emotive, somewhat charged feeling to her comments. Flocking is a word usually associated with animals (bird migration) and is on a par with words like 'flood' and 'stampede', also often used when discussing immigrants and immigration policies. It is racist language and is used to other and dehumanise the subject.
Now, I think that Brown was absolutely right to describe her as a bigot. She expressed bigoted views. As many other commentators have said, lots of people in Britain think the same way as her, use the same language and express similar views. The thing is, that doesn't make the comments any less racist. It is very difficult in this country to have a conversation about immigration that doesn't use racist language and imagery. Because we see it so often, because the media repeat it, because these views are accepted as standard and ok. Because people who express these views are otherwise decent citizens and 'good people'.
But you can be an otherwise good person and still hold racist views. You can be a 'good person' and not think about what you are saying. You can be generally racist and specifically very liberal (disliking immigrants in general but defending your immigrant neighbours and friends). This doesn't mean that your racism is ok.
I was very proud of Brown when he said that Duffy was a bigot. It's so fucking rare that we get to see people in politics or in positions of power actually call someone out for talking crap. I am now much more likely to vote for the Labour candidats in my area now that I know the party leader takes an active stand on this shit and can recognise petty racism when he sees it.
More from the second transcript:
On BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show
Vine: Is she not allowed to express her views?
Brown: Of course she's allowed to express a view, and I was saying that.
I really do not understand Vine's question there. Nowhere in the whole conversation (with Duffy and with the aide), did anyone suggest that Brown wanted to stop Duffy speaking or censor her. The thing about free speech is that you can say what you want. But so can anyone who disagrees with you. Censorship is not the same as disparaging or criticising someone else's views or arguing and disagreeing with them.
Duffy's response to Brown's comments:
After hearing of Brown's comments
Duffy: He's an educated person, why has he come out with words like that? He's supposed to lead this country and he's calling an ordinary woman who's just come up and asked questions what most people would ask him – he's not doing anything about the national debt and it's going to be tax, tax, tax for another 20 years to get out of this mess – and he's calling me a bigot. I thought he was understanding – but he wasn't, was he, the way he's come out with the comments.
I think Mrs Duffy is conflating educated with agreement. I would say that it is precisely because he is educated* that he can use the word bigot accurately. I feel that she is also missing the reason why Brown labelled her a bigot, but she seemed to be rather hurt by the comment (understandably, it's not a nice word, but that doesn't mean it's not true) and be rather distressed by it. Mind you, I also think she is upset because it is job to listen to what the voters want and propose ways to improve the country, not insult them. She has a valid point.
On the other hand he didn't insult her to her face, it was a mistake that the conversation was broadcast and anyone who thinks people (including politicians) don't bitch about their job and the people they meet behind their back, is incredibly naeive.
So, I'm now more likely to vote Labour, I have a great deal more respect for Gordon Brown and I am yet again pissed off with the generic public's attitudes to immigration and foreigners.
While we were watching this news unfold at lunch one of the twats in the office declared that all Labour voters were illegal immigrants and criminals. I want to go back to the third sector please, I prefer their politics.
*By educated I don't mean to infer that only Uniersity education is worthwhile, You can educate yourself through discussions with friends or reading blogs. Each method is equally worthwhile to me. However, I recognise that Duffy was probably referring to University education.