Guest post from Brother G
One week before a General Election, arguably the most important and controversial election in many years, one might expect the airwaves to be awash with analysis, speculation and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flurry of policy detail, rally reports and grave-sounding public statements on everything from ash clouds over Iceland to storm clouds over Greece.
Imagine my surprise then, when I turned on BBC News last night and instead of being confronted with the usual fare of George Osborne looking like a rabbit caught in a headlight, or Chris Grayling firing off inaccurate crime statistics like some sort of shit Rain Man, I was treated to 45 minutes of rabid journalists huddled around a closed front door in Rochdale.
The discerning and well-informed readership of AVPS will obviously know all about BigotGate by now. In fact even my mother had heard about it within the first hour, a sure sign of media saturation if ever there was one. In an attempt at damage control, Gordon Brown has since made a formal apology, not just to the ‘bigoted’ Gillian Duffy but to the entire Labour Party membership. But does he have anything to be sorry about?
Dave at Though Cowards Flinch has produced a good piece on the issue where he talks about the way in which such behaviour demonstrates the disconnect that exists between the political class and the electorate. But is that disconnection really unique to the political class, and does such a disconnection justify the ignorant stance on immigration displayed by Ms. Duffy?
The truth of the matter is that Gillian Duffy’s attack on Eastern European immigration was bigoted. Given that, is Brown not justified in calling a spade a spade? Why should someone feel obliged to apologise for the hurt feelings of someone whose words would, for many people, be much more offensive than an off-the-cuff remark by Gordon Brown? Likewise, this occasion certainly wouldn’t be the first (or last) time that campaigners (myself included) have had a good rant about the electorate on the campaign trail. The truth is we are all prone to outbursts against those we disagree with, especially when we think noone is listening. If dismissing people who say racist things as racists is evidence of disconnection, I must confess that I have fallen into the trap myself on occasion, despite the evident oversimplification that such a view demonstrates.
That said, there are two issues here that need to be confronted. The first is that if Gordon Brown is so vehemently opposed to this sort of anti-Immigrant vitriol, why did he not confront it head on? There have been many occasions, on stalls and on the doorsteps, where I’ve been confronted with individuals saying far nastier things than Ms. Duffy. In many cases, explaining the genuine issues around immigration and dispelling the illusion that it is migrant workers who are the guilty party causes these individuals to rethink their position. Even in those instances where the individual turns out to be a hard-bitten racist, you can still take pleasure in the fact that you put forward your argument and stood your ground. In refusing to do this, Gordon Brown took the coward’s way out.
This gives rise to the second issue. One of the reasons why reactionary attitudes like this are so prevalent is that the Labour Party, in its position as the main ‘progressive’ force in British politics, has consistently failed to lay out a positive argument for immigration. Time and time again the three main parties have pandered to the nationalist sentiments of the right-wing media, a fact that can be seen with nauseating clarity in the first leadership debate in which Brown and Cameron went toe to toe in order to prove who could punish foreign people more. The truth is that for all his apparent disdain for bigotry, Gordon Brown has played a fundamental role in its rise.
If the Labour Party really wants to end this ‘bigotry’, we need to be prepared to fight our corner when it comes to immigration. If we continue to let the Right dictate the state of play, the result can only be more intolerance and fear. We should be prepared to confront all those, both inside and outside the Labour Party, who would seek to scapegoat foreign workers for the problems caused by the system in which we live.
It remains to be seen what impact, if any, this event will go on to have in the election. While we can undoubtedly look forward to a plethora of front-page headlines it is likely most people will see the event for what it is, a minor gaffe in an election where there are big consequences to be had. And besides, it wont be the first time we’ve had bigotry plastered all over the front page of The Sun.
But if today’s events do cause an upset in the polls, I might have a few choice words for the electorate myself.