Politics, particularly during an election season, can be a strange business, one where great changes of fortune are heralded by seemingly minor events. As the nursery rhyme has it, the most historic of battles are often lost for the want of a horseshoe nail.
This week saw one such event and the almost certain ending of any hope that Gordon Brown will still be Prime Minister this time next week.
It took the shape of an, as he thought, private comment about Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy, who Brown had met on the campaign trail and described to his aides as a ‘bigoted woman’ because she had the temerity to mention the unmentionable subject of immigration. In a piece of the bad luck that has dogged his tenure in Downing Street from day one our soon to be ex premier still had his microphone on and the whole sorry exchange was recorded and then played back to him live on national radio.
To his credit Brown looked horrified when his words were played back to him and made a personal apology; it was, though, too little done far too late. An ugly truth about his character and that of the party he leads had been brought out into the open.
Behind the carefully constructed PR and the pose of being a pretty straight bunch of guys; the brave talk about having a ‘moral compass’ and wanting to reach out to ordinary voters New Labour is a seething mass of paranoia totally divorced from the experiences and concerns of their core voters, or of anyone else living outside the Westminster bubble. At some level everyone who voted for them knew this, and I include myself in this group, but so long as we acknowledge it things could go on as they always had. Now we have seen their true colours they can no longer claim out vote and nothing will ever be the same again.
Bigotgate, as the incident was quickly dubbed by the media, wasn’t the only thing that went wrong for the Labour Party this week; just the most graphically damaging.
In a moment of pure slapstick the party’s charmless schools secretary Ed Balls was snubbed by Peppa Pig, a cartoon character much admired by the under fives m’lud, who refused to appear alongside him at the launch of the party’s children’s policy.
On a more serious note two broadsheet newspapers withdrew their support form Labour, it isn’t, perhaps, such a surprise that the Times prefers the Tories, but the news that the Guardian is backing the Liberal Democrats because they share its stance on electoral reform is, in terms of condemnation, roughly equivalent to the Tablet dropping the Vatican in favour of Lambeth Palace.
This is how the New Labour project that began with such high hopes in 1997 ends, not with a bang or a whimper; just endless bitter recriminations. That and a deep sense of betrayal felt by people all over the country for whom socialism is more than just an ideological pose, even if they don’t use the word it is the code by which they live their lives, they are the people New Labour let down by taking their support for granted.
Gordon Brown, like any senior politician, must have considered what his place in history might be, this week he found out. He will be listed alongside Lloyd George, not in the sense of being a ‘great’ prime minister, but in the sense of being a venal man who led his party into political irrelevance. It is a verdict the events of this week show he richly deserves.