Brown wounded by "Bigotgate" in final election spurt (News Feature)
By Anna Tomforde Apr 29, 2010, 16:24 GMT
London - If you want to win an election, don't insult the voter - that should be the first rule in any politician's code of conduct.
But just days before Britain's general election, Gordon Brown stands accused of breaking it in spectacular fashion.
Muttering under his breath, the 59-year-old British leader called a widowed pensioner a 'bigoted woman' - unaware that the TV microphone was still clipped to his lapel.
The incident - dubbed 'Bigotgate' - in the northern industrial town of Rochdale Wednesday has come to haunt Brown in the crucial final stretch of campaigning.
After conducting a lengthy discussion with Gillian Duffy, 66, over immigration, crime and education, the British leader walked away muttering to his aides: 'That was a disaster.'
He immediately blamed aides for picking out Duffy, who was on her way to buy a loaf of bread, from a crowd of onlookers to talk to him.
But, according to analysts Thursday, there can be no doubt that the ill-fated encounter with a Labour voter could turn out to be Brown's disaster, just a week before the May 6 election.
'This is the biggest political and personal gaffe ever committed by a politician in this country,' Charlie Beckett, head of the Polis media think-tank, told the German Press Agency dpa.
'It demonstrates the gap between senior Labour politicians and their core voters,' he added.
The 'Brown factor' was likely to encourage undecided voters to switch their support to the smaller Liberal Democratic Party, already the star of this election.
Both the 'hypocrisy' of politicians and the 'disdain' shown by Brown's unguarded remarks had been exposed, fueling further the 'disconnect' and widespread voter disaffection, Beckett said.
Labour strategists may hope that Brown's personal apology to Duffy - he visited her at her modest home and declared himself a 'penitent sinner' when he emerged - will have gone some way towards repairing the damage.
'Gordon is not a monster,' said Home Secretary Alan Johnson, who is expected to become interim party leader should Brown step down next week.
But, judging by the media response and expert opinion, a Brown recovery is unlikely. Duffy, they said, had raised issues which were of concern to many voters, especially immigration.
'All these eastern Europeans, where are they flocking from?' Duffy had inquired.
Brown said later it was the question that annoyed him most.
'Immigration is the cypher for what people feel about a wide range of issues and where they feel the disconnect,' Beckett said. 'This gaffe will make people mad. They will either not vote or vote angrily.'
For Brown, the faux-pas could not have come at a worse time, analysts believe. He agonized a core group of voters at a time when his dispirited party was already trailing in third position in the opinion polls.
If his party should come third after the Conservatives and the Liberals in the election, as polls have predicted, there could be no doubt that Brown would have to go, Beckett said.
Many would think that it was perhaps Duffy who brought him down, achieving what repeated party rebellions against him had failed to do.
'Gillian only popped out for a loaf. She came back with Brown Toast,' the mass-circulation Sun newspaper joked.