Wednesday, 28 April 2010


The interesting thing about this terrible moment for Gordon Brown - for whom I have begun to feel a kind of sympathy I did not think I would - the moment that he loses his temper with one of the electorate he has just talked to with an electioneering smile on his face, and with whom he has coped perfectly well, is that it is not unusual to think another human being is a bigot. Nor is being bigoted an unusual condition in the human race. It is not confined to this country, not to a particular party base, not to an age group, not to a class, not to persons who might be thought despicable in any particular way. The woman herself claimed to have been a Labour voter. She might well have been. Now she might be one of the Labour voters draining away into the swill of the BNP. After all, there isn't much that divides her from them.

Only today we had our first BNP leaflet (Mid Norfolk) slipped through the door, albeit coyly folded into an advertising brochure. 'We need to invest in our services and the NHS' says one BNP voter pictured on the back. It is just that he prefaces this with British Jobs for British Workers (his capitals). The female voter pictured next to him is similarly on the xenophobia wagon. That is the the BNP's Unique Selling Point (my capitals) as far as they are concerned. But bringing home the troops and raising the weekly pension - other named policies - might well appeal to Bigot Woman, who is, in the end, just a woman. She is practically on their doorstep.

There is the joke about the government preferring to elect a new electorate and voting out the old. That too is understandable at times. A prime minister cannot afford to be overheard contemplating that prospect. Just as the last government in Hungary couldn't afford to call the people names behind what it thought were closed doors. Now they are out and flat out, and look who has taken their votes. The far right.

There is a delicate moral problem here where flattery, tact, hypocrisy, and contempt combine to make a noxious fog it's hard to see through. But maybe one should try. Who knows? It might even pay off.

At Oxford, Jon Stallworthy was recalling how Philip Larkin would respond to people who had sent him poems he didn't like. He would simply write back, saying, 'These poems have the voice of true feeling' and leave it at that, hoping that he would then be left alone. The trouble is that, when I actually think of it, this smacks of something perfectly horrible, something so horrible as to be almost evil - all the more evil for being so understandable. I don't mean that Larkin was evil, but that this move, this smug little, lying little, patronising move, seems to me the beginning of a bottomless contempt. Far better to tell the truth in the most humane way possible.

If this world were just one degree better than it is, Gordon Brown might have stopped and tried to persuade the woman, in the best and nicest way he knew, that she was wrong. Forget the schedule for ten minutes. This is what should have been overheard not the grumble afterwards. This should have been the news. Prime Minister detained in argument on a point of principle. He could just have tried. He could have listened and argued. She was showing bigotry - but she was also a woman who might have been persuaded she was wrong.

The rest is microphones and electioneering. Part of the same machine as the apology that followed. In his tempers at least, Brown is not a machine, but a hassled, anxious, angry, desperate man. I rather fear for him.


Stephen F said...

Brown couldn't contemplate that argument in public, George.

Brown: Immigrants do good.

Woman: What about local people?

Daily Mail: Brown puts illegals ahead of YOU. Dave is great.

Mark Granier said...

"If this world were just one degree better than it is, Gordon Brown might have stopped and tried to persuade the woman, in the best and nicest way he knew, that she was wrong."

GB could have tried harder George, but he actually DID attempt to reason with her. He made the simple point that, if there were many 'Eastern European' people in Britain, there were also many British people in 'Europe', and the woman did seem to, just possibly, take this in.

Agree with your point about Larkin; nicely put. Lines from his 'The Mower' come to mind:

'We should be careful // Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time.'

Coirí Filíochta said...

I happened to turn on the telly just at the point Brown came out of Gillian Duffy's home, and a winning boyish smile on his face, and I thought, go on Gordon!

I imagined to myself that he was seeing through the charade of all the Murdoch mouthpieces spouting rot: 'oh the poor pensioner, he called her a bigot.'

They know nothing of this woman, everything about Brown, and yet are prepared to accept this woman, just coz she's 65, is the victim here.

I heard what he said and he sounded very normal. How many of us don't act exactly like he does? Say things out of earshot about people when we move off?

The hypocrisy of Kay Burly and the moral piranhas in Spin Alley, as if they actually give two hoots about this woman. A full day of it, because of what Brown said out of earshot. She said, I heard it, 'all these Eastern Europeans' who are there legally. She is a bigot if she thinks they don't have a legal right to be there.

It's like watching Fox news 2008 all over again, the faux concern about people, as if they, the tv spindroids on hundreds of grand a year, are somehow the voice of your average Briton, hoping Brown gets voted out, not because of their own beliefs, but because their boss, one man, wants it. They are bought and paid for and people can see right through it.

The TV hacks and media luvvies are worse than the politicians. All moaning. Well, if they are that concerned, how come they aren't running for office themselves.

This was a defining moment, one that showed the baying press pack up for what they are. Stone mad and full of their own importance.

They just can't handle the change.

I had a post, a satirical one, up on Robert McCrumbs latest Globish thread, in which, rather than disagreeing with him as everyone else, I agree and satirically show him up. It was up for 3 days, got 15 recommendations and was took down an hour ago.

The free press, there's no such thing.

George S said...

Interesting the way this is going (the next morning). The woman now is presented as firmly 'not bigoted' simply voicing the concerns of ordinary people - which may well be true, but that is precisely why those views should be properly argued with, and if the arguments are good enough, they may win.

Brown should have argued further.

Matthew Parris was saying on the radio this morning that you will never talk to a politician as though he/she were just another person. Straight talk is impossible.

I don't believe that. Furthermore, straight talk can be respected - and I mean talk, not bellowing. Brown could just, for ten minutes, say to himself: Fuck the Daily Mail, let's talk. How would he have done worse? Is the rest just a matter of being found out?

Treat people as though they had some intelligence and they might just respond with intelligence.

And the term 'free press' is not an absolute, Coirí. Like everything else, it is relative. It would be possible for it to be a great deal less free.

Newspapers try to print the stories that, they think, will interest their readers - they have to or they don't sell. On the other they can try and form their readership by pandering to all kinds of herd instinct.

Newspapers are sleazy, vicious, coercive, thoroughly hypocritical, and heavily focused on the short-term. We know that: they know that. But we still want them precisely because of their relative freedom . Part of our freedom is to ignore them.

Dafydd John said...

Just to show that occasionally, just occasionally, the media don't get their evil way...

George S said...

Wasn't it Paxman who said that when he interviewed a politician he always asked himself: Why is this lying bastard lying to me?

The role of the TV / radio interviewer as public inquisitor is interesting. I suppose it is a long sharp reaction to the culture of deference ('I wonder, Prime Minister, if I might ask....?) to which I don't expect to return in the immediate future.

As with newspapers, it is a mixture of what we, as viewers / listeners want (the inquisitor must ask the questions he imagines the sternest critic would ask), and what the inquisitor likes to present as a demonstration of his own moral superiority, inviting the public to the same vicarious pleasure ('these filthy lying politicans are so much worse than we are').

This then encourages the interviewee to dig in, and employ whatever mode of defence and prevarication remain - and so it goes on.

This time, it seems, Paxman went through the usual performance but got his facts wrong.

One dented sneer. But plenty left in the bag.