The prime minister of the United Kingdom Gordon Brown has just, in effect, been imprisoned in a small house in Rochdale. It’s a gruesome and humiliating farce of a day for Mr Brown’s campaign, and for him personally.
The mass media were massed; hungry for the next development in a story which began in the same town just some very long hours earlier. Gillian Duffy, a pensioner, had buttonholed Mr Brown on one of his carefully controlled walkabouts – she’d been encouraged by Mr Brown’s aides to come and talk to him. She had told him she was a lifelong Labour voter, but went on to express unhappiness about a range of issues, from the national deficit to welfare benefits to immigration and tuition fees.
The Prime Minister emerged from the encounter reasonably well but then had the misfortune to clamber into his car and forget that he’d still got the microphone on he had been provided so that viewers and listeners could follow his encounters with the general public. Relaxing into his seat Mr Brown reflected that the encounter with Mrs Duffy had been a “disaster” and wondered who allowed it to happen identifying his long serving aide “Sue” (Nye) as responsible. When asked by an aide in the car what Mrs Duffy had been talking about the PM replied “oh everything…she’s just a bigoted woman” at which point the 24 hour news cycle went completely into overdrive.
Mr Brown found himself having to answer questions about it in a BBC radio interview within the hour and offered personal apologies – as the replay of his words in the back of the car were replayed to Mr Brown, he looked utterly crestfallen and held his head in his hand. But by 3 o’clock he was back in Rochdale to see Mrs Duffy at her home and apologise in person having after first doing it by phone. He had been in the house 45 minutes before emerging saying he was a “penitent sinner”.