Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I had a little bit of angst yesterday after dissecting the psychology of the Prime Minister. It has to be admitted that I am not, in fact, a doctor. I read a bit of Jung when I was younger, that's all. Am I really fit to pronounce on the mental state of our Dear Leader?
Then Mr Brown, ever the gentleman, came along and saved me. 'Good, good,' he said to a certain Mrs Duffy, after she asked him about benefits and immigration. 'Nice to meet you. Good family.'
Then, in the car: 'Who set that up? It was a disaster. She was a bigoted woman.'
Mrs Duffy was a lifelong Labour voter who may not be quite so lifelong after that. Money quote comes from a reporter who spoke to her afterwards: 'She did not even know what a bigot was.'
The defence, being mounted manfully by Lord Mandelson of Foy, Andy Burnham, and Alistair Campbell is 'he's only human'. It was a human reaction, apparently. We all get crazy sometimes. It's very, very bad luck for them that Mrs Duffy is a widow who works with handicapped children.
The thing about the stickability of gaffes is that they have to feed into an already existing narrative. If some national treasure like Joanna Lumley described someone as bigoted, we would all assume that she had a keen ear for prejudice. When the Prime Minister hurls that word around, especially after saying 'good family', it confirms the lurking suspicion that he really does not like us voters very much. It illustrates the difference between public, smiling, politicking Gordon, and private, growling, telephone-throwing Gordon. It fits the pattern that, in his eyes, when someone challenges him, they are not only wrong, but bad.
The Only Human defence is not helping. It would be much better to say: it was wrong, he regrets it, he has apologised, now do let us move on to our plans for giving every single ordinary hard-working Briton a puppy. If Nick Clegg or David Cameron had called a member of the public bigoted, I do not think that Lord Mandelson or Alistair Campbell would have reacted more in sorrow than in anger. I suspect it would have turned out that Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron were not 'only human' but in fact the spawn of Satan come to raze our fields and despoil our women.
The curious thing about all this is it almost makes me feel sorry for Gordon Brown. I stick by my analysis. I think he is enraged, entitled, and unable to admit to his own flaws. I think he has made catastrophic mistakes with the economy, and I get madly grumpy that he will not face them. I wish he would stop doing that weird phoney mad uncle smile. I wish he had not sold gold at rock bottom prices. I wish he was not running a once proud party into the ground. I wish he did not have an unattractive tendency to blame the people around him for things which are his fault. I hold him culpable for the lack of kit and helicopters in Afghanistan. But after all that, he is still a human being. Mrs Brown, whom everyone says is very nice, loves him. He has two small boys who must see him not as failed leader, but good old dad. He is not running around selling crack to minors and drowning kittens with his bare hands. He is not evil. There is a tiny edge of the pitiful in watching him flail about, unable to get anything right. I take no pleasure in his downfall. I do, however, think it is complete.
In the final, Shakespearian twist, it was Mrs Duffy, a Labour loyalist, on her way to the shops to buy a loaf of bread, who, quite without meaning to, struck the fatal blow. The ironies of that shall echo around the commentariat until there is no more ink with which to write. It was, in the end, the unkindest cut of all.