Thursday, 29 April 2010

Was this Gordon's Ed Muskie moment?

Bigotgate is all over the media this morning. I have been on local radio and Gillian's nephew has been interviewed by Radio 5. Even local television stations in Delaware have been carrying the story and yesterday live media was focused on her front door while Gordon was inside for 40 minutes, giving the door 'a door of the day' award on the BBC's campaign show. Is this one of these 24 hour media storms that will soon subside or will it be seen as a defining moment in the campaign?

I was reminded of an incident in the 1972 presidential election campaign in the US. Ed Muskie was a front runner for the Democratic nomination and would probably have made a better job of challenging Nixon than McGovern. On the stump in New Hampshire he appeared to break down and cry over accusations that he had insulted French speakers and in response to slurs on his wife. He said that he had got snowflakes in his eyes, but the damage was done. Seeing Gordon Brown with his hands over his eyes as the damaging tape was played back to him brought back the memories of Muskie.

It seems to me that this is damaging to the faltering Labour campaign on two levels. First, Gordon Brown raised the issue of character himself and this brings to the surface once again issues about his personality which have been around for years. Andrew Rawnsley was milking the story to promote his book and its relevations about Gordon's temper tantrums on the BBC campaign show last night for all he was worth.

Second, it brings to the surface the East European immigration issue which is damaging to Labour. One could argue that the wave of immigration brought in cheap, hard working employees who gave an impetus to economic growth. But many voters see competition for jobs and housing and pressure on public services. Labour could have imposed transitional arrangements as other member states did: the fact that many of them did increased the pressure on Britain as a destination, although English as a widely spoken language would have been a factor anyway. Labour are open to the charge that they closed the stable door after the horse had bolted.

I am no fan of Harriet Harman but she made a dignified attempt to defend Gordon on the campaign show last night. Her argument was that all of us have said things in private in anger or irritation that we would have regretted if the remarks had been made public. No doubt some electors will be forgiving. Others have a negative view of Gordon Brown already and these events simply reinforce that.

Labour tried to retrive the situation as best as it could and those aides who recommended a personal apology were surely correct. Gillian has hired a public relations agency and the Sun interviewed her but decided it wasn't worth pursuing the story.

In order to stop Labour's campaign imploding, Gordon Brown needs to put on a stellar performance in tonight's debate. The economy is at least an area in which he can sound authoritative, while Dave Cameron is open to attack on VAT and Nick Clegg's grasp of economics is not as sure as that of Vince Cable. For undecided voters, this is likely to be the decision point.

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