Friday 30 April 2010

Gordon Brown's "bigot" Gaffe.

There are at least thee lessons which can be learned from Gordon Brown's much pubicised "gaffe" earlier this week.

  1. The fact that elections increasingly focus on the performances and personalities of the leaders places them under almost intolerable strain. The only comparable situation I can think of is that of military commanders in battles of movement. I am not surprised that, under these circumstances, Mr Brown should have made an unguarded comment. It would be interesting to know what unguarded comments the other leaders have made, without the misfortune of having them broadcast through a live microphone.The Prime Ministerial debates have exacerbated this situation. In this election we have heard little of the other leading politicians in any of the parties (who can name five from each, never mind the 25 or so who would constitute a cabinet?) and the candidates in the constituencies have become mere ciphers. To adapt a phrase: "The exposure of the party leaders has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished." Debates between the spokespersons of the parties on all major areas (see post, Party Leaders' Debate, 14th April) would help to spread the load and give us a better understanding not only of the different policies but also the strengths of the rival teams.
  2. Mr Brown's unguarded comments give us further evidence, if such were needed, that these "casual" encounters with "ordinary" voters are not casual and ordinary at all, but carefully staged, or at least, that is the attempt. The incident adds fuel to the view that all politicians are dishonest spinners. More open honesty might reap dividends.
  3. Since the days of Enoch Powell, and probably before, the subject of immigration has never been properly and openly discussed. This is because the politicians are frightened of upsetting those floating voters in a handful of key marginal seats who, under our flawed system, decide elections. It is interesting that in last night's debate none of the three leaders put the case for immigration: all the emphasis was who would best curb it or, in Nick Clegg's case, cope with it. Similarly, the arguments for Europe, for higher taxes to create a decent society, for a more enlightened and effective method of dealing with criminals, are never put. The first past the post electoral system enables the tabloids to set the political agenda. STV could change that and lead to a more grown up debate.


  1. On 3 it strikes me too that the party debate is so tightly constrained within the limits set by the prevailing media narrative and domination of the sound-bite. Attempts to broaden the debate even a little - such as the LD ideas for an amnesty for long-term illegal immigrants - are relentlessly attacked not on substance but for a supposed failure to 'get real'. Inevitably politicians play safe offering inoffensive platitudes such as the banalities in last night's debate about resurrecting manufacturing industry 'like the good old days in Birmingham'. Attempts to go beyond the strict limits modestly by the LDs or more fundamentally by the Greens are simply rubbished or ignored. Is it just my impression or has this got much worse in the past couple of decades as image has replaced a real exchange of ideas?

  2. I agree with you about the dominance of the soundbite, and there is also the necessity for "gimmicks" in order achieve publicity.
    Even back in the "good old days" of the 1970s, as a local candidate, I found it impossible to get a reasoned argument reported by the Birstall News or Morley Observern never mind the regional press. They would report only gimmicks, coupled, if possible with a photo-opportunity. Today I believe you even have to provide your own photographs.

    Nick Clegg had a perfectly good argument on legitimising "well behaved" migrants who have already been here for a long period, but this was ridiculed. What he failed to point out, which is unfortunate, is the hypocrisy of the other two, in that, during the past 20 years both Conservative and Labour home secretaries have allowed what were effectively the amnesties we are suggesting now. In fact, I believe that even under existing practice illegal migrants are legitimised after 14 years, so all we are suggesting is that the qualifying period be reduced by four year.If even such a simple point cannot be effectively made, what chance is there for putting forward the case for migrants?