Gordon Brown is alright. I think that Gillian Duffy is probably complaining to the Daily Mail about the way they’ve illustrated their latest toxic immigration piece with a picture of her and misrepresented her views.
She spent 4 minutes reproaching Gordon Brown about nearly everything including tax on her pension and her grandchildren’s prospects for university. In amongst this was:
“All these Eastern Europeans that are coming here. Where are they flocking from?”
That question had no place in her grievances, Gordon Brown responded diplomatically and to her credit Gillian Duffy didn’t pursue it then or later.
Update: Kellie points to this link in the comments below – Gordon Brown attributing his own diagnosis of bigotry to Gillian Duffy’s comment about immigration. That rather undermines my case against the Daily Mail below. This time.
So it’s entirely vexatious and reprehensible of Gordon Brown’s right wing political opponents to suggest that he called Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman” because of her question about immigration. The Mail has no grounds to claim:
“When grandmother Gillian Duffy suggested immigration was a problem in Rochdale, she was swiftly dismissed as a ‘bigot’ by Gordon Brown.
But the Prime Minister was betraying not only his real feelings about the worries of millions of Britons, but also his ignorance of what has been going on in the northern town – which provides an acute case study of issues afflicting the whole nation.”
“Bigot” is not the same as “racist”. Dictionary.com defines it as “a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion”. The Free Dictionary defines a bigot as “One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ”. Gillian Duffy was in no mood to change her views that afternoon – she was very angry – but Brown had to talk to her anyway, of course. In the end, his “dismissal” of Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman” was not swift – it was minutes afterwards and can’t safely be associated with the tiny proportion of what she said which was about immigration. This is a perfect example of why nobody should expect truthful reporting from the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail is a chronicle of bigotry.
Gordon Brown’s going to be the last person to defend himself – his job now is to be abjectly sorry. So I’ll do it. He let off steam in the car when he thought his mic was off – and the steam was just a puff. Insulting, but not an explosion by any stretch. He didn’t reveal anything toxic – on the contrary, think about what he could have said about Sue (whoever she is) given he held her responsible for his exposure to public lambast. In fact he was very restrained. He just made an unprofessional mistake – the kind which catches out many senior people fairly often.
But if I was having a conversation with somebody into which a strange out-of-place question about immigrants crept, I’d have the suspicion that they were a bit racist, despite also knowing that they had hopes, fears and stories to tell. I’d keep that to myself and try to come at things another way – like Gordon Brown did when he knew the mic was on. But privately I’d wonder about their views.
Worldwide it’s normal to think in racist ways about the rack and ruin (actual or perceived) of any given country. You can see attempts to make immigration the cause and poverty the effect throughout the right-wing media in this country – The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph. The reason this is wrong is that it’s well known that immigrants do the jobs that other citizens won’t get out of bed for, as well as other jobs they won through their own merit. For richer and for poorer, we invited most of these people through our borders to staff our boom years of the last decade, but nowhere was it written that they had to wrench up their lives and leave when the boom turned to bust. That wasn’t part of the deal, and nor should it have been. In this country we don’t tell people how many children to have, and we certainly don’t use reproduction law to discriminate on grounds of where you are from. The reason I might be homeless is that my council sold off its stock and didn’t build sufficient to replace it. There’s plenty of wealth to go round here but it’s badly distributed. It’s wrong to have a go at immigrants while neglecting to scrutinise the way we distribute our country’s resources.
Bad mouthing immigration, or asking questions about immigrants as part of a long diatribe about what’s wrong with the country is very normal in British life these days. I don’t like it on principle and I don’t like it on a personal level – only today some colleagues commented (without hostility) on my outlandish name and un-Anglo-Saxon appearance. I’m under no illusions that the politicians who think that fewer immigrants than we currently have would solve their economic problems would be trying to get rid of me sooner or later.
We are all immigrants now, as they say.
So I’d like people to feel more inhibited about bad mouthing immigration or immigrants, exert a bit of self-censorship. I don’t know whether this is reconcilable with my other hope, which is that people will also feel that racism is one of those normal but unhealthy things in our society we need to work on ourselves about, like tending towards overweight.
But if the Mail, Sun and Telegraph are going to make Gordon’s gaff into an immigration thing then I think Gordon deserves some moral support.
He might not feel he could perform it with the cameras on while being harangued by an angry voter, but I’d share his private frustrations about people who lay into immigrants.
However, I’m still not convinced that Gillian Duffy’s brief reference to immigration was the reason Gordon Brown referred to her as a bigot. Sadly, Labour probably wouldn’t thank me for this post. They aren’t mounting much of a defence of immigrants or immigration either.
Or only in private, as I thought.
- John Prescott on the derelict ethics of the Murdoch empire – but wtf is he talking about – “an Australian with an American passport cannot buy our General Election“.
- Elmyra from Eastern Europe is sickened by politicians grovelling to bigots; richandme points out a few things.
- Don’t do it, Mrs Duffy. (My hope is that she comes out tomorrow with her own apology.)
- On Newsnight Danny Finkelstein said that talking about immigration was a problem because you get called racist if you try to bring it up. That’s when Peter Hyman, Olly Grender or Jeremy Paxman should have pointed out that there is a lot of racism in the debate about immigration. None of them did. In fact Peter Hyman pointed out that Labour is tough on immigration in their manifesto, and could talk about it with confidence. What that has to do with incomers from EU member states I’m not sure. Chasing votes has come to this.
- That’s it from me on this now. There’s an enormous funding shortfall to consider – that and attitudes to immigration are not unconnected.
- Update 2 – except for this postscript – this morning Alan Johnson called Gillian Duffy a very fine woman and said that her question about immigration was totally reasonable. Appeasement..
- Update 3 – the final televised leaders’ debate in Birmingham this evening, the nearest any of the leaders got to being respectful to immigrants was Nick Clegg’s pragmatism about delivering the incognito ones “into the hands of the tax-man”. Cameron and Brown were trying to outdo each other in severity – but as Clegg first pointed out 80% of immigrants are from the EU. I was pretty appalled at how low this country has sunk, that three politicians could judge it unwise to have a genuinely “honest debate” about immigration.. An “honest debate” about immigration involves talking about how if you were born in Angola your life expectancy at birth would be 38, and about how badly our councils have done on housing and schools. I felt like throwing a bucket of water over the television.
- Update 4 – above I commented that the question about Eastern Europeans had no place in Gillian Duffy’s lambast, and I still don’t think it did. Imagine hearing it as an Eastern European. It’s not a question of Eastern Europeans, but of how the government came to underestimate and consequently under-resource the incomers at the expense of the established population. Writing in Dissent, Alan Johnson is more interested in persuading us to indulge the kind of belligerent and pointed curiosity (as he would have us think of it) of people like Gillian Duffy (who do indeed have valid grievances but are mistaken in their causes and wrong-headedly defiant about the charge of racism) rather than taking the opportunity to explain this. Disappointing to see somebody of Alan Johnson’s stature elevating the idea of debate over the substance of that debate. Intelligentsia right there along with the political classes running scared of a British public at our most ignorant and ornery.
- Update 5 – good for Gillian Duffy – she can’t be bought by Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper. Seems she’s more angry about being dissed by her prime minister than being thought a bigot. Why did the media get so worked up?
- Update 6 – it’s a new world. The Web is rounding on Murdoch as anti-democratic. See Avaaz’ petition UK Voters v Rupert Murdoch, and 38 Degrees’ The People v Murdoch. This seems very important, but I can’t quite figure out how. First taken at face value you have to ask what about The Daily Mail, which is Associated Newspapers Ltd? What about the big blogs? What about Labour supporters’ use of fear to consolidate Duverger’s Law? Secondly, what role is new media assuming in relation to old media?
- Update 7 – wish I’d seen Rosie’s allegorical post ‘At the court of Queen Demos’ earlier: “So all her courtiers – The Sun, The Daily Telegraph – many who view Master Brown’s advancement with unease, denounce him for his insolence and his forgetting his place. She might want to shrug it off, but they roar his treachery at every opportunity at the top of their voices. The courtiers don’t want her to balance Master Brown’s usefulness in the treasury against a hasty remark, because, after all they have their own men to place.”