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Wednesday, Feb. 21
The Indiana Daily Student

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Brown’s campaign could suffer after calling woman ‘bigoted’

He’s lost one vote — but did British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s gaffe just cost him the election?

Brown made the first major flub of the country’s short campaign season Wednesday, caught on an open microphone calling a 65-year-old voter a “bigoted woman” after she pressed him on immigration during a public meeting.

The British leader, said to have a sharp temper, raged at an aide after mixing with voters in northern England — but failed to notice he was still wearing a TV microphone or that it was recording.

It’s the latest in a long line of missteps by lawmakers whose private remarks have been made accidentally public — from President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 joke declaration of war on Russia to President George W. Bush’s overly familiar “Yo, Blair” greeting in 2006 for Brown’s predecessor, Tony Blair.

But the political consequences of his blunder could be severe, with Brown already third in opinion polls for Britain’s May 6 election and his desperation to show his supposedly statesmanlike credentials to dispatch less experienced rivals Conservative leader David Cameron and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats.

And then grandmother Gillian Duffy in the northern town of Rochdale, quizzed Brown about issues such as tax policy, education and immigration, telling the prime minister that “you can’t say anything about immigrants.”

“All these Eastern Europeans ... where are they coming from?” she said.

Brown said one million people had come to Britain from the continent but the same number had moved the other way.

Duffy also complained about people on welfare.

“There’s too many people now who aren’t vulnerable, but they can claim, and people who are vulnerable can’t claim, can’t get it,” she said.

The exchange appeared good-natured, but after Brown ducked into his car, he was heard on his open microphone telling an adviser: “That was a disaster. They should never have put me with that woman. ... Whose idea was that? It’s just ridiculous.”

Asked what Duffy had said to upset him, Brown told the aide: “Everything. She’s just a sort of bigoted woman.”

Shortly afterward, the BBC played Brown the audio recording as it interviewed him. Brown’s head sunk into his hands, and he shielded his face from the camera.

Duffy told reporters that Brown’s remarks left her shaken. She said she was a lifelong Labour Party supporter and had planned to back Brown, but would now likely abstain.

“He’s an educated person. Why has he come out with words like that?” Duffy said. “He’s calling an ordinary woman who’s just come up and asked questions ... a bigot.”

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