Ambushed British prime minister Gordon Brown will use tonight's final televised leaders debate to apologise again for calling an elderly Labour supporter a bigot. But he should not be saying sorry.
Brown made the unguarded remark, which his right-wing media enemies have seized on to hand the Conservatives victory in the general election, while still wearing a microphone provided by Sky News.
But the comment Gillian Duffy, 66, made about "all these eastern Europeans what are coming in - where are they flocking from?" was bigoted. Yet such is the stranglehold of the Tory-supporting media on the general election campaign that a Labour leader, who should be expected to confront xenophobia head on, is bullied into becoming an apologist for it instead.
After Brown's walkabout in Rochdale - something dreamed up by party strategists keen to get him to meet the public on camera - the prime minister turned to his aide Justin Forsyth, and pronounced: “That was a disaster.”
Brown was unaware that he was still being recorded.
He added: “Whose idea was that?” Brown then blamed “Sue” – Sue Nye his longest serving aide and friend.
He was then asked by the aide what Duffy had said.
Brown replied: “Everything, she was just a sort of bigoted woman who said she used to be Labour.”
The comments were relayed to Duffy by journalists who said she was aghast that Brown – “a man who is going to lead this country, an educated person” – would make such an accusation.
She said: “I’m very upset. What was bigoted in what I said?” Duffy later said she would “rip up” her postal vote.
Minutes later, Brown arrived for a BBC radio interview with Jeremy Vine who used audio from Sky News and a video camera to stitch him up. While Brown was live on air, Vine played the Prime Minister his comments. Seemingly unaware that he was being filmed, he held his head in his hand as he listened. His apology was stuttering and couched in equivocal language.
He said: “Of course I apologise if I have said anything that has been offensive and I would never put myself in a position where I would want to say anything like that about a woman I met.
“It was a question about immigration that I think was annoying.”
Last night Brown was desperately trying to draw a line under the Gillian Duffy debacle – as the hours ticked away to his crucial final TV debate.
Brown visited the home of widow Gillian Duffy to apologise.
After chatting to the lifelong Labour supporter in private, Brown faced a barrage of questions from an army of baying journalists.
Here The-Latest prints in full the exchange between Gordon Brown (GB) and Gillian Duffy (GD).
GD: My family have voted Labour all their lives. My father when he was in his teens went to the Free Trade Hall to sing the Red Flag. And now I’m absolutely ashamed of saying I’m Labour.
GB: Now you mustn’t be, because what have we done? We’ve improved the health service, we’re financing more police, neighbourhood policing, we are getting better schools, and we are coming through a very, very difficult world recession. You know what my views are. I’m for fairness, for hard-working families. I want to make sure – I’ve told these guys across there – if you commit a crime you’re going to be punished. You better stop.
GD: I don’t think it’s happening in
GB: We have a bit more policing than there were but obviously we are going to do better in the future with neighbourhood policing, but neighbourhood policing is the key to it. You’re a very good woman, you’ve served your community all your life.
GD: I have, I’ve worked for the Rochdale council for 30 years, and I worked with children and handicapped children.
GB: Well I think working with children is so important, isn’t it. Have you been in some of the children’s centres?
GD: The thing I can’t understand is why am I still being taxed at 66 years old because my husband’s died and I had some of his pension tagged on to mine?
GB: Well we are raising the threshold at which people start paying tax as pensioners. But yes, if you’ve got an occupational pension you may have to pay some tax but you may be eligible for the pension credit as well, you should check.
GD: No, no I’m not. I’ve checked and they said no, they can’t do it.
GB: Well you should look at it again just to be sure, absolutely sure.
GD: Yes, yes they’ve told me. I’ve been down to Rochdale council to try and get it off my tax.
GB: You know we’re linking the pension to earnings in two years’ time, we’ve got the winter allowance as you know which I hope is a benefit, the winter allowance.
GD: I agree with that, it’s very good, but every year I talk to people my age and they say they’ll be knocking it off, it will be going. It will be.
GB: We’re keeping it. We have done the bus passes, we have done the free eye tests, free prescriptions.
GD: But how are you going to get us out of all this debt Gordon?
GB: Because we have got a deficit reduction plan to cut the debt in half over the next four years. We’ve got the plans, they’ve been set out today. Look I was a person who came in...
GD: The three main things what I had drummed in when I was a child was education, health service and looking after people who are vulnerable. But there’s too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim, and people who are vulnerable can’t claim.
GB: But they shouldn’t be doing that, there is no life on the dole for people any more. If you are unemployed you’ve got to go back to work. It’s six months...
GD: You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying that you’re... but all these eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?
GB: A million people have come from Europe but a million British people have gone into Europe. You do know that there’s a lot of British people staying in Europe as well. Look, come back to what were your initial principles: helping people – that’s what we’re in the business of doing. A decent health service, that’s really important, and education. Now these are the things that we have tried to do. We’re going to maintain the schools so that people have that chance to get on. We’re going to maintain the health service so that...
GD: And what are you going to do about students who are coming in then, all this that you have to pay, you’ve scrapped that Gordon.
GB: Which one?
GD:To help people who go to university.
Gordon Brown: Tuition fees?
GB: Yeah but look we’ve got...
GD: I’m thinking about my grandchildren here. What will they have to pay to get into university?
GB: You’ve got 40 per cent of young people now going to university, more than ever. If you get a degree and you earn twice as much after you get the degree then you’ve got to pay something back. But there are grants for your grandchildren, more grants than ever before. You know more young people are going to university than ever before. So education, health and helping people, that’s what I’m about. That’s what I’m about.
GD: Well congratulations, and I hope you can keep it up.
GB: It’s been very good to meet you, and you’re wearing the right colour. How many grandchildren do you have?
GD: Two. They’ve just come back from Australia where they’ve been stuck for nine, 10 days with this ash crisis.
GB: But they got through now? Yeah we’ve been trying to get people back quickly. But are they going to go to university? That’s the plan?
GD: I hope so. They’re only 12 and 10.
GB: Oh. But they’re doing well at school? GD: Yeah, very good. GB: A good family. Good to see you.
GD: Yeah. And the education system in Rochdale – I will congratulate it.
GB: Good. And it’s very nice to see you. Take care. Good to see you all. Thanks very much.