A political storm is brewing over Sen. Barack Obama's recent statements. Last Sunday, Obama was explaining his difficulty with winning over working-class voters in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, saying they have become frustrated with economic conditions:Mr Obama was unaware that his comments to Liberals at a wine and cheese fundraiser in an upscale San Franciso neighborhood were being recorded. Fast forward to April 28, 2010:
"And it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," Obama said.
Mrs Gillian Duffy, a 65 year-old grandmother, is a lifelong 'working-class' member of Britain's Labor party. When she had a chance today to put questions to Labor's Gordon Brown during his televised election campaigning, she asked about a range of issues that reflected the majority's concerns: crime, high taxes, the national debt, high university tuition fees, immigration.
The Prime Minister, a practiced pol and adept at dealing with the working class (or "real people" as his administration likes to call them), answered her questions genially, although he was a little arch about her immigration question:
GILLIAN DUFFY: Three main things what I was drummed in when I was a child was education, health service and looking after people who are vulnerable. ... But there's too many people now who aren't vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can't get claim, can't get it.After a few more exchanges including a charming compliment about her jacket, Gordo returned to the Sky News truck for the next campaign pit stop.
GORDON BROWN: But they shouldn't be doing that. There's no life on the dole for people any more. If you're unemployed you've got to go back to work. It's six months...
GD: You can't say anything about the immigrants because you're saying that you're... all these Eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?
GB: A million people come from Europe but a million people, British people, have gone into Europe. You do know that there's a lot of British people staying in Europe as well?
Unaware that his microphone was still on, which meant he was still broadcasting all over Britain, he snapped to an underling, "That was a disaster. Should never have put me with that woman ... whose idea was that?"
When the underling asked what the woman had said, Gordo replied, "Ugh, everything -- she's just a sort of bigoted woman, said she used to be Labour. It's just ridiculous."
Moments later the media had beat a path to Mrs Duffy to breathlessly inquire how she'd reacted upon learning what Labor's leader really thought of her:
Iain Watson (BBC): We are live at the moment, the prime minister's being interviewed by the BBC, what would you like to say to the prime minister?Once Mr Obama realized his remarks were making headlines he backtracked, amplified, clarified, and apologized Six Ways from Sunday. The Obama-crazy media (including the Huffington Post blogger who ratted him out) were all too willing to forgive his snobbish remarks about working class voters.
Gillian Duffy: "I want to know why I was called a bigot"
GD: I'm not saying anything more to him.
IW: Are you disappointed?
GD: I am really disappointed.
Niall Paterson (Sky News): Mrs Duffy you came here with very specific concerns about your pension, and he responded positively to those, you thought?
GD: It was about the tax being paid and pensions, and the national debt.
NP: But you've just watched that, you've heard the prime minister's words in the Sky truck? What is your instant reaction to that?
GD: Very upsetting, I'm very upset.
IW: Did you expect that from him?
GD: No. He's an educated person, why has he come up with words like that? He's going to lead this country and he's calling an ordinary woman who has just come up and asked him questions - what most people would ask him, they're not doing anything about the national debt, it's going to be tax, tax, tax for another 20 years to get out of this national debt - and he's calling me a bigot.
NP: You told me you were a lifelong Labour supporter, then you have a postal vote registered, will you be sending that?
IW: You also told me earlier, you said when I asked will he stay at No 10 and you said, hopefully he will.
GD: Well, I'm not bothered whether he does ... not now. I don't think he will.
The British media are not in such a forgiving mood about Gordon Brown's apologies to Mrs. Duffy. A million Britons are indeed fanning out across Europe but they're doing so because they can't find work in the United Kingdom. Unlike the majority of immigrants pouring into the U.K. these British expats are educated, white-collar workers who don't go on the welfare rolls in their host countries.
A week ago the Guardian newspaper, a bastion of British Educated Liberal opinion that could never be accused of bigotry, published an editorial titled We need a radical immigration policy:
Despite debate about population growth figures, the problem of immigration in the UK is clear. The government must take action. [...] Britain is already, with Holland, the most crowded country in Europe. Most immigrants go to London and the south-east. Schemes to oblige them to work and remain in places less attractive to immigrants are unrealistic and unenforceable. There is a strong case to be made that the quality of life and social cohesion of our society as a whole will be severely affected by continued population growth on anything like the current scale.As the afternoon wore on in the U.K. the Beeb chronicled the widening fallout from the Prime Minister's remark about Mrs Duffy. Nick Griffin must have been grinning from ear to ear as he turned in for the night.
The view of the public is very clear. According to the latest Sunday Times, 74% think immigration into the UK is too high and the government's own survey, conducted by the Department for Communities and Local Government in February 2010, found that 77% want to see immigration reduced and 50% want it reduced "by a lot". Of the ethnic respondents, 25% also wished to see immigration reduced by a lot. [...]