Labour in turmoil ahead of final UK election debate
The final UK election debate Thursday night is supposed to focus on the economy, a strong issue for the Labour Party. But Prime Minister Gordon Brown's outburst after meeting a working-class supporter may give further boost to Conservative David Cameron and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg.
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The incident, in addition to dealing a potential death blow to Brown’s hopes of staying on as prime minister, has catapulted the issue of immigration into the spotlight.Skip to next paragraph
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It continued to dog Brown when he addressed workers Thursday at a factory in Halesowen, in England’s West Midlands.
During a question-and-answer session with staff, one worker demanded to know what he was going to do about it. Brown insisted that he understood the sense of public concern, pointing to his introduction of an points system for workers entering the UK from outside the European Union area of free movement.
"I understand the worries people have about immigration. I understand the concerns about what is happening to people's neighborhoods, and I understand the fears that people have," he added.
Wednesday’s incident has also shown up deep fault lines between the Labour Party itself and the white working-class voters who traditionally formed its core support.
Those fault lines go all the way back to a change in direction after Labour’s bruising 1983 election defeat, when it began a process of seeking to broaden its appeal. The rebranded New Labour project, spearheaded In the 1990s by Tony Blair, was the culmination of that change in direction, in which more middle-class voters who had previously supported the Conservatives were assiduously courted.
Mark Garnett of Lancaster University, whose field of expertise includes British political culture since 1970, said that Britain’s white working class has steadily vanished from the considerations of politicians from all of the major parties.
Instead, the focus had shifted toward an imagined “caricature” of British voters as being tolerant, middle-class, and receptive to the language used in the “Westminster bubble” of Britain’s political elite.
High-profile meetings with supposedly random voters on the campaign trail are now normally carefully choreographed and often staged.
“Politicians had some contact with real people in the 1970s, when they had more opportunities to interact with the electorate but there has been a detachment of politicians from the general public," says Mr. Garnett, who predicts that Labour will not be able to recover. "What we saw yesterday was an encounter between Mr. Brown and a genuine member of the electorate.
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