Bigotgate: The Fallout From Gordon Brown's Gaffe

No matter what Gordon Brown hopes, his now notorious gaffe - nicknamed 'bigotgate' by the British press - is likely to play a pivotal role in the upcoming British elections.

The fact is, calling Gillian Duffy, a widowed 66-year-old grandmother, a 'bigot' was never likely to go away quickly when the frenzied attack dogs of the British press got hold of it.

The Sun, Britain's most popular paper and a firm supporter of Tory leader David Cameron, ran today with the headline "Brown Toast," while The Daily Express, another right-leaning tabloid, ran with the more viciously direct "A Hypocrite Who Shames Britain."

"People often talk about political gaffes in terms of car crashes," writes the BBC's Gary O'Donoghue. "But this is no car crash, this is a multi-lane, multi-vehicle pile-up of enormous proportion."

What's particularly damning is that the incident seems to point to fundamental character flaws in Brown. As the Washington Post writes:

In this campaign, Brown has sought the support of voters by emphasizing his experience in contrast to his two younger rivals. But he has been undermined by questions about his temperament and the charge that he is out of touch with ordinary people. Putting him out in front of voters like Gillian Duffy was designed to overcome those problems. It did the opposite.

Brown's anger and tendency to blame subordinates has been revealed before. Andrew Rawnsley, the author of a book that revealed alleged incidents of violent rages inside Number 10 Downing Street, writes:

Brown's problem is that this episode shows him acting not out of character, but entirely in it. It will be rightly taken as evidence of the less attractive dimensions of his personality. Note that it happens because he stresses over the trivial and becomes infuriated by anything or anybody that disturbs his idea of himself as a man in iron control. Mrs Duffy was far from the most tricky customer ever to confront a politician. In fact, he dealt with the initial encounter reasonably well. She even said she was going to vote Labour. Calling it "a disaster" was an over-reaction to a fairly humdrum moment on the campaign trail.

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!"

Brown has apologized to Duffy, the woman he called a bigot, and also to his own colleagues.

"I am under no illusions as to how much scorn some in the media will want to heap upon me in the days ahead," he wrote in a note to Labour Party members. "Many of you know me personally. You know I have strengths, as well as weaknesses. We all do."

How much damage could one ill-timed remark really make? Today Brown was back out on the campaign trail, hoping to shake off 'bigotgate' and get back onto solid issues. He no doubt hopes tonight's final election debate will give him a chance to recover.

"Yesterday is yesterday," he said as he visited a factory in England's midlands.

But with news that the so-called 'bigot', Duffy, has hired a PR manager and is seeking to sell her story, along with signs that Labour have again dipped into third place in opinion polls and another poll suggesting that 46% of voters think he is a "hypocrite", that may just be wishful thinking.