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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 29, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

    Gordon Brown’s gaffe

    Harry McGee

    There are few spaces in the world, visual or aural, that are now free from prying eyes and ears, most of them electronic.

    It’s more dystopian than the world poor old Winston Smith encountered in George Orwell’s 1984.

    Gordon Brown found that out to his cost yesterday. The video above give the full narrative of the toe-curling episide with pensioner Gillian Duffy in Rochdale.

    He joins a host of Irish politicians who have similarly gaffed, wittingly and unwittingly, on radio and television.

    Irish Tweeters came up with some great memory-jogging examples this morning. One was Paddy Donegan’s brutish description of then president Cearbhall Ó Dalaigh as a”thundering disgrace”, an insult that forced the president to resign.

    Brian Lenihan’s ‘mature recollection’ was another that featured.

    As did the off-mike use of choice language. There was John Bruton’s complaint to a cowed radio report that he was sick of answering questions about the “fxxxing peace process”. Brian Cowen chose the exact same word from the lexicon when describing the National Consumer Agency, in an aside to Mary Coughlan in the Dáil. His words were picked up by a nearby live mike.

    But the ones that most people remember are the two major gaffes made by Pee Flynn, in the presidential election of 1990, and on the Late Late Show in the mid 1990s. The first was his defence of his exorbitant salary, which he justified on the basis that it’s very expensive to run three houses with three sets of staff.

    And then, to compound his troubles, he made an ill-thought remark about developer Tom Gilmartin, to the effect that he was not worried and that Gilmartin was ill. Of course, Gilmartin was looking at television in London. It prompted him to make a complaint to the Planning Tribunal.

    The 1990 remark was almost worse,  a leading question intended to undermine Mary Robinson and her family.

    Elsewhere, Prince Charles got caught out by a nearby mike describing the BBCs Nicholas Withcell as a horrible man. Similarly, George W Bush described one reporter in a media scrum as a “first degree ass****”, unaware that his juicy little description was being  picked up.

    Having gone through the entirety of the video at the top,  it’s evident that it is cringy and carcrash stuff.

    OK Brown is cranky that his handlers didn’t keep her away. But the Bigot-gate stuff isn’t as bad as it seems – especially when you consider the things we all say when we’re having private conversations.

    The problem is that her comments weren’t all that inflammatory… and (unfortunately) reflects public sentiment in Britain at the moment.  There was some prejudice in what she said. But it certainly wasn’t bigoted.

    The real damage was done by her horrified reaction to the remarks.

    There’s no doubt that Brown is damaged by this. I think it was big of him to go and apologise and spend an hour with her. I don’t exactly know why but I felt a great deal of sympathy for him after watching it all, maybe because he’s so besieged and I for one  get no pleasure from seeing people lose out or fail.

    Actually, political afficiando (well, ok, anorak) Naoise Nunn has a link to that infamous Padraig Flynn Late Late appearance on his Twitter site (find the twitter site here or the Late Late show clip here). 

    Incidentally, talking of Naoise Nunn, Leviathan will be hosting a British general election special on election night next week. It will be in the Berkeley Court in Dublin on Thursday. Tickets from its site and other outlets (€17.50 including booking fees).

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      A storm in a tea cup and much ado about nothing.

      I also felt sory for him in the same way most people felt sorry for Brown when he was targeted in that really nasty way by The Sun over his letter to a soldiers mother – who herself was used.

      I don’t think people doubt Brown sincerely believes in what he is doing – the fact he is profoundly wrong doesn’t seem to register.

      His latest gaffe won’t influence anyone’s vote and if they said it did they are lying. Just like people who claim they won’t vote for Fine Gael as they don’t like Enda Kenny etc are lying and were never going to vote for Fine Gael anyway – with or without Kenny.

      Gordon Brown’s failure is clinging onto the delusion that because he was Chanceloor he ought to be PM – he spent over 10 years seething that he wasn’t leader yet when he got the job he made a complete mess of it – sound familiar?

      Brown should have gone when Blair went.

      Win or lose in this election, Brown won’t be around for the next election so how lnog will he have anyway before mutterings start if Labour get to form another government next week.

      Ironically, his greatest service to his country will probably be a hung parliament with the Liberals calling the shots and if the Liberals only ask one thing, it will be PR, and that will mean no party will ever again get to govern on its own and that means even if the Tories are the largest party they too will have to dance to the PR tune.

    • XXfactor says:

      ‘Gaffe Gordon’ what a cock-up…or as someone on another site put it… LOLOLOLOL… wheeze… LOLOLOL…!
      Headline in today’s press should have been ‘Brown Bread’ as he and the pitiful ‘New Labour’ Party is now toast!
      Anyone who thinks otherwise read the 1019 posts, and counting, on Nick Robinson’s blog.
      The man’s hypocrisy was exposed and we saw his true character behind that rictus of a smile he’s taken to wearing. SCARY!
      As if that wasn’t bad enough we’ve then got to listen to handy Mandy’s disingenuous damage limitation… hurrah for Adam Boulton and Andrew Neil…
      Maybe now the Electorate will see the true face of ‘New Labour’.

    • robespierre says:

      You missed the Albertisms like “thats women for you.”

      I actually think Brown was right, she was slightly bigoted. The prism in which you have to see this is the perennial clash of cultures between British (rather English) perceptions of what the EU is about and what it actually is about.

      I think a Tory government will be bad for British Foreign Policy if not Britain itself. Extremely bad in fact. They have not adapted their world view to a multi-polar world.

      We know from our own experience with the maternity tourism question resolved by McDowell’s referendum a few years ago that the people and the meedja/Oireachtas are not on the same page on many, many issues.

      Immigration control and integration of minorities is just one of them. Adequate sentencing is another.

    • barbera says:

      I thought the Duffy woman was awful and would have detected bigotry behind what she was saying. I thought Gordon’s “private” response was very tame under the circumstances. Enjoyed the final debate — great stuff UK politics at the moment. Gordon won that debate hands down no matter what the polls would have us believe. I think it would be a mistake to remove him now. His recovery plan seems workable and grounded in reality.

    • Liam says:

      Brown is a spoofer, he said he knew how to run the country in the good times. Ha! Ha! , he sold a lot of Britian’s gold for a bag of peanuts back in 2000 and couldn’t run a decent surplus when times were good. And his solutions for how to solve a bursting debt bubble, create more debt.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      When he said ‘bigot’ didn’t he mean that she was simply repeating the mantra that all immigrants were taking jobs from British people when the reality is that this isn’t true as a rule – in some areas certainly it is true but the issue of the whole benefit class etc is far more complicated than just blaming immigration.

      I thought he meant she was ‘bigoted’ in that she wouldn’t accept that what she thought was true wasn’t in fact true.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      What three stories in the news at the moment show: Mrs Duffy, Greece and Quinn Insurance – it’s that people do not want to face up to the truth and prefer to remain in denial – denial that immigrants don’t actually cause the social deprivation in the UK, that it is the Greeks themselves who are to blame for the mess they are and Quinn Insurance staff still refusing to face the fact that to have a properly run financial system is going to require lay-offs and very painful adjustments – but no, instead Mrs Duffy prefers to believe what she reads in the tabloids, the Greeks prefer to blame the Germans and not the fact the Greeks are more corrupt than even we are, and Quinn Insurance staff still want a nod and wink financial system in Ireland.

    • XXfactor says:

      The anthem that is most ‘fit for purpose’ for the UK election might be, ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss’…
      This is not an election for a new Government but a change of management.
      The ‘Labour Party’ has lost credibility because it has lost its ideology.
      The Newsnight debate following the ‘beauty pageant’ was far more interesting than the platitudes from the three ‘wise’ monkeys…
      Once more the women in the audience and on the panel shone.
      Liam Fox and Ed Ballsup looked quite terrified when they were told in no uncertain terms that the Politicians worked for the Electorate who paid their salaries and would not be treated with contempt.
      The only sustained applause was for Janet Street Porter…
      Hurrah for ‘Old Labour’ working class salt of the earth supporters.
      Gillian Duffy exposed Brown for the ‘duffer’ he is
      Gordon Bennett!

    • Betterworld Now says:

      It seems to me that the Brits have a choice between deluded liars (LD), deliberate liars (L) and pathological liars (C). And the most likely result will be a combination of two sets of liars (liars squared?)

      None of the parties are willing to break ranks and tell the people what is coming down the tracks, possibly because the first who does will get zero votes. Most people, it appears, will bitch on about politicians lying to them but in the privacy of the ballot would prefer to be lied to than to hear bad news.

      They, no more than us, get the liars we deserve. A good reason not to let political parties stand in elections – make them all stand as independents with fixed and equal election budgets. Eliminate the “party line” and you wipe out half the lies immediately. It works in Cuba.

    • RL says:

      “It’s more dystopian than the world poor old Winston Smith encountered in George Orwell’s 1984.”

      Really? You might want to give the book another read.

    • XXfactor says:

      My sister once sent me a series of posters to place in the window to deter canvassers, I have been trying to unearth them (some hope!).
      One said:
      ‘Don’t Vote..it Only Encourages Them’

      The one I particularly liked said:
      ‘If Voting Changed Anything they’d abolish it’, ain’t that the truth? particularly in this ‘Election’.

      There was another but the slogan escapes me.

      How to choose between Bodge Dodge and Fudge…? THAT is THE question…

      The conflict for me is that women fought and in some cases died to secure the vote, so I feel it would be a betrayal not to do so but to what purpose other than keep the Tories out?

      Guess that will have to suffice but it’s a very negative reason!

    • Hugh says:

      Gillian Duffy says the words “Eastern Europeans” and is branded a “bigot” on no evidence. The real Eastern European bigot gets killed in plane crash and is labelled ‘great European statesman.’ The irony.

    • XXfactor says:

      @12 as well as 1984 take a look at Animal Farm

    • dealga says:

      “It works in Cuba.”

      Laughing. Out. Loud.

    • tony says:

      xxfactor Do not mock your right to vote. Most of the population of the globe do not have that right. How about voting to increase the proportion of women in parliament? The fact that the talents and perspectives of fifty per cent of the electorate are grossly under-represented is inefficient, unjust and undemocratic.

    • Frank says:

      @dealga
      And you know enough about Cuba to be “Laughing. Out. Loud.” Great use of punctuation by the way. Did you learn it in the Irish education system?
      Firstly the progress made in creating a more equal, socially-minded and altogether more civilised society, is much clearer in Cuba since the revolution than here in Ireland.
      Universal healthcare to name just one policy which they attained, under economic duress from the U.S due to ideological differences. While our country pampered beyond reason by the E.U, manages to not only destroy the fragile health system in place but wholesell it’s natural resources, waste money on pathetic pet-projects like e-voting machines and still look down at countries who actually look out for all citizens in an equal basis.
      News flash: We live in the primitive system. We may have a better standard of living but it has very little to do with our governments’ policies and only we the people are to blame.
      Caught in a false sense of “westernising sophistication” I’m afraid to say Dev failed where Lenin suceeded, to a point,
      in that we weren’t modernised in a generation or even two. With the fall of the Church’s moral authority, growing communications with the outside world restricted vehemently to the western culture/ideas etc, until slowly but surely Irish culture, morals, ideas were replaced with those of Anglo-America without any maturation of society. Thing’s held close to the populations heart through hundreds of years of lamented oppression only to be replaced with materialism and consumerism.
      As a young Irishman, I’m deeply ashamed of the levels of ignorance displayed in my country at every echelon of society. We have become what we once despised, without even realising it.

    • XXfactor says:

      @15 I wasn’t ‘mocking my right to vote’…
      I do not think any of the UK Parties represent me or deserve my vote.
      The option therefore is either not to vote at all, or vote tactically to prevent the party that is least representative from gaining power.
      You do not need to remind me of the inequalities faced by women in Society I assure you.

      @16 I have noticed that ‘Cuba bashing’ is a common theme in these blogs…I’m not sure why…
      Perhaps as the last bastion of ‘Socialism’, it’s a hangover from RCC indoctrination and anti-Communist propaganda…
      It’s heartening to read the occasional defence of a system where the welfare of the ‘People’ is still paramount.
      Regrettably this is unlikely to be the case for much longer.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Don’t forget that none of the women who have actually been elected have proven to be any better than their male colleagues so where is the evidence that electing even more women will make any positive difference.

      Isn’t the proper way at looking at it that we should stop electing politicians? As it seems it’s the politicians, regardless of their gender, who are the problem.

    • Frank says:

      @Desmond
      Agreed, but if the vanguard of a revolution is to be seen as legitimate by the outside world it would have to be elected through the current electoral infrastructure.

    • dealga says:

      Frank, get back to me when Fidel stands for election and when an Irish political activist has to die on hunger strike in Mountjoy to have his opinion heard.

      And I don’t often get personal on these comment pages, but you can stick your po-faced ad hominem little put-down up your waste evacuation orifice.

      You might also learn how to use commas if you’re going to criticise someone else’s punctuation.

    • XXfactor says:

      @20 Bobby Sands MP 5 May 1981?..
      Not Mountjoy but Ireland surely?

    • Frank says:

      Dealga, Fidel Castro is not the president of Cuba his brother Raul was elected in 2006, democratically. Perhaps you should read about something before you form an opinion on the subject, just a thought.

    • XXfactor says:

      @20 that riposte has to take the pique of the week award…! Rory Bremner’s on good form tonight…

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      @19 there is nothing wrong with out current electoral system – the mentality of Irish people and the sort of people they vote for is the problem – all the other issues about devolution of power and transparency and accountability etc can all easily be dealt with by the current system if honest, decent people are elected in the first place – is it too much to think at the next election everyone who bothers to get off their backside to go and vote picks a first time candidate and if after 3 votes you can’t find a suitable first timer than start voting for those who have been TDs already ie if you really can’t vote for anyone but FG then vote for the newcomer before the old timer and then we can see if things change.

      Because until the voter provides proof it will hold the cronies to account – from all parties as the pensions farce shows – then nothing will change.

      It’s not the system – it’s the people who vote and the people they choose to vote for that is the problem.

    • XXfactor says:

      A ‘night of the LOLOLOLOLONG knives’ in East Belfast…!


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