Gordon Brown's '30 Rock' moment was sublime. Like Liz Lemon ranting while still on mic, Gordon smiled and told the widowed Mrs Duffy, a confused Labour voter from Rochdale he had just visited, to "take care," before clambering into the back of his limo to complain of the visit, "That was a disaster... She is just a sort of bigoted woman." A complete transcript of their conversation can be found here.
Poor Gordy was oblivious to the fact he was still wearing a microphone, and that Sky News International was shortly to broadcast this extremely private moment between Gordon and his staff.
Judging from the tweets and facebook postings popping up over England, the average person seems in sympathy with Gordon's embarrassing predicament. I tend to think even the Dalai Lama must have had a private bitch about, say, the Chinese occasionally - one which was certainly not intended for mass public consumption. His remark really doesn't change anyone's opinion of Gordon Brown's character. He's always been a bit of an idiot, prone to tantrums, displaying an unfortunate unwillingness to take the rap for his own mistakes. Andrew Rawnsley writes in The Guardian:
We see also a glimpse of Brown's tendency to instantly assign fault for a setback to someone else."You should never have put me with that woman," he complains to his aides. "Whose idea was that?" This too fits a pattern common to many of the temper episodes that I revealed in The End of the Party. When he was accused of plagiarising Al Gore and Bill Clinton, he turned on his advisers. "How could you do this to me?" he raged. When Revenue & Customs lost the notorious data disks, the prime minister instantly saw himself as the victim. He grabbed his startled deputy chief of staff by the lapels and snarled: "They're out to get me!"
Given Brown's notorious temper and expletive-ridden speeches, this was really a minor hiccup. As so often happens in Britain, deprived of any interesting world conflicts to moan about, it has been blown out of proportion because we love a good soap opera. I can't help thinking Gordon didn't even think the woman was a bigot - he was probably in need of a piss, a cup of tea and a sit down, and took his short temper out on an easy and unconscious target.
However, as the general election looms and analysts and journalists and commentators leap upon the deeper significance of Gordy's fuck up, what becomes increasing apparent is that the unwitting Mrs Duffy has become a straw dog, of sorts, for liberal self-reflection. Yes, I'm in agreement with those, like John Harris, who point out that Gordon's comment "exposes the disconnect between politicians and voters." But his suggestion that voters' concerns are "a mixture of right and left-ish stuff" implies that the core Labour voter has moved more right because those in power have not bothered to explain their decisions to them. The core Labour voter is now concerned with immigration, with the welfare state, with the demise of student loans -- and as Harris and others imply, these 'right wing' concerns will lead the Tories to, "big up the hardline, Eurosceptic, anti-welfare aspect of their DNA, and presumably draw away some crucial Labour votes."
Surely it's pretty evident that what Gordon's comment reveals is not whether Mrs Duffy is a bigot or not, but that left, right, liberal, right wing, Old Etonian or local Comp, have played race, class and social status against each other for so long that the only option they have now is to continue doing so. Brown's 'bigot' dig at Mrs Duffy sounds very much like most of the liberal press whenever a concern over immigration is raised - the good Liberal must silently accept and pass immigration over to the right wing to be discussed: the right wing will discuss it and prove the left wing correct in their assumption of bigotry. However, the good Liberal is not the same as the old, strong, core Labour base. They are radically different as I have written about elsewhere.
what we're seeing at a grassroots level in Britain is the paradoxical rise of an elitist left wing plagued by middle-class guilt: the bourgeois liberals.
There is a huge difference between the left wing pre-Blair and post-Blair with the rise of this bourgeois liberal. Disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the Blair years and resigned to the tedium that the un-enigmatic Gordon seems to proffer, the extremism of the bourgeois liberal seems a reaction to the weakness of its leaders in the last few decades. The bourgeois liberal is a breed apart from the champagne socialist of the 1980s, lacking the cheerful rambunctiousness of Tony Benn or George "tired and emotional" Brown.
What commentators such as Harris seem to blithely ignore is that it's not just Gordon Brown and Labour who are out of touch with voters - it's the liberal media who has confused left wing with liberalism and enhanced the tendency of the press and politicians alike to fall back on the power play between race and class. Harris, as the good, tender, educated liberal from London, who cares about these working-class potential Labour voters being misunderstood by the bad liberal elite in power, aptly demonstrates this dynamic at work:
Of late, I've talked to them time and again. In South Shields: the builder whose hourly rate had come down by £3 an hour once the construction trade turned to recently arrived Poles. In Blackpool: Delwyn and Sylvia, who stuck to a Daily Mail-esque line on crime and immigration, but fretted about how people manage to live on the minimum wage.
The point is until Mrs Duffy can still ask questions about immigration and taxation and university fees without those questions being branded 'right wing' or 'bigoted' - until the liberal media accepts that it is as complicit as Labour in confusing left wing and liberal, and branding the concerns of a public as 'right wing' - the Labour voter and the Liberal alike are lost. The press and politicians alike seems to have turned every issue which most plagues voters today into right wing issues, which implies only right wing solutions can be found. If only we didn't play this class and race card every time an issue reared its head, maybe we could have made a Labour government acting like the Tories more accountable, and avoided this 2010 bumfuck jokingly entitled a General Election.