British election: Gordon Brown undone by gaffe about grandmother?
Ahead of the British election, embattled Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited working-class Rochdale and was caught calling a life-long Labour voter a "bigot." The gaffe spotlights voter anger over welfare policies in a town with the highest concentration of the unemployed in Britain.
Seeking to show the common touch ahead of the May 6 British election, Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the working class northern town of Rochdale for informal chats with voters and came off appearing dismissive and aloof.Skip to next paragraph
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The aftermath of Mr. Brown's encounter with pensioner Gillian Duffy, a self-described former Labour voter, led to the sort of unguarded moment on which general elections often turn. Ms. Duffy said she's angry that her taxes pay for benefits for fellow Britons she believes refuse to work, worries about the national debt her grandchildren are going to inherit, and is upset about immigration which appears to be taking English jobs.
Brown soon retreated to his waiting Jaguar, with parting questions about her grandchildren's school performance and a "very nice to meet you." But he forgot that he was still wearing a live mic, and began berating his staff as they drove off just seconds later.
He complained they "never should have put me with that woman." Asked by a staffer what upset him, Brown said: "She's just a sort of bigoted woman that said she used to be Labour. I mean it's just ridiculous."
Pundits in Britain almost immediately described the gaffe as a death knell for Labour's chances of retaining power, a moment in which the party leader went into a traditional hotbed of party support, and responded to the fairly mild – and widely held – concerns of a voter with insults. "We have just witnessed the biggest moment of the 2010 election campaign," Fraser Nelson wrote in The Spectator.
But the location of Brown's mistake – he later said he was "mortified" by his own words and apologized – was a reminder of sharp voter concerns over both unemployment and welfare benefits. Not far from where Ms. Duffy met the Prime Minister is the Lower Falinge housing estate, which has the highest percentage of people collecting welfare in the country.
The surging Conservative Party, and its leader David Cameron, have made welfare reform a central part of their campaign, something that has resonated with voters like Duffy but also concerned the large numbers of Britons who live on the dole. “Lets cut benefit for those who refuse to work!” reads a recent Conservative campaign billboard, featuring Mr. Cameron addressing a rally with his sleeves rolled up.
The issue is expected to a be a theme in Britain's final party leaders debate Thursday night, which will focus on the economy at a time when domestic inflation is far outpacing economic growth. Mr. Cameron and his party are currently leading the polls and he'll be seeking to close the deal Thursday night.