Yesterday, because he forgot he was still wearing a Sky News microphone, Gordon Brown was overheard calling pensioner Gillian Duffy a "bigoted woman." When the story went public it saw Brown apologise, and Alan Johnson insist that it is "perfectly legitimate" to debate immigration, the subject that Duffy raised when speaking to Brown.
Firstly, what Gordon Brown said is utterly irrelevant. His comments were off the cuff, in (what he thought was) private, and do not reflect any serious attitude on policy. I'm willing to wager that most people in the world have muttered "twat," "prick," or something similar once somebody who's pissed them off is out of earshot.
It's also a pointless distraction, and whilst the media focus on Brown's "gaffe," they're ignoring more serious issues like his war crimes or his use of policy to support big business and attack the working class. But then, these aren't serious issues in elite circles, and so it's more legitimate to attack him for a remark which has no effect whatsoever upon how the country is run.
Secondly, Gillian Duffy is not a bigot. She is wrong in what she said, but this is more likely down to the message that the tabloid media (in particular) has drummed into people's heads for several decades than to any deep seated hatred or prejudice.
From the Times, here is the transcript of her conversation with Brown;
Duffy: Look, the three main things that I had drummed in when I was a child was education, health service and looking after people who are vulnerable. There are too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can’t get claim.
Brown: But they shouldn’t be doing that, there is no life for people on the dole anymore, if you’re unemployed you’ve got to go back to work. At six months –
Duffy: You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying you’re – but all these eastern Europeans coming in, where are they flocking from?
Brown: A million people come in from Europe, but a million British people have gone into Europe, you do know there’s a lot of British people staying in Europe as well. So education, health and helping people, that’s what I’m about.
Duffy: I hope you keep to it.
Those two points - "There are too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim" and " all these eastern Europeans coming in, where are they flocking from?" - sum up entirely the central message of the media. People on benefits most likely don't deserve it and the immigrants who come here are really an invading horde.
Neither point is true.
On the subject of benefits, as Child Poverty Action Group campaigner Imran Hussain told the Morning Star, earlier in the month, "Benefit fraud is at an all-time low, and amounts to less than 1 per cent of claims. However, £16 billion in benefits, which should be spent helping the poorest, went unclaimed last year." Disability network RADAR also has a thorough debunking of the myths on Incapacity Benefit which is well worth reading.
As regards immigration, a lot of people have done this subject to death a thousand times over. Both Refugee Action [1, 2] and the Refugee Council have pages dedicated to the myths about asylum seekers. I have written in depth about the supposed Muslim "demographic timebomb," the myth of 70 million, the Daily Mail's art of twisting the facts, and the whole nonsense about mass immigration being engineered by New Labour.
But more than that, such myths are harmful; to the working class. In the first instance, they distract us from the bigger picture of an economic system built upon greed at our expense. It also divides us, using spiteful myths to turn workers against the unemployed, natives against migrants, and any other division they can get away with. This allows them to exploit the weaker group (as cheap labour or as scabs) in order to undermine the stronger group. It also offers a wall of prejudice to stop us uniting against the real enemy of capitalism.
Gillian Duffy, then, is not a bigot. But she is a victim of a propaganda onslaught that serves to divide and weaken the working class and must be rejected out of hand.