British PM calls voter 'bigoted' in campaign gaffe
Prime Minister Gordon Brown was caught out calling a voter a "bigoted woman" Wednesday, in an embarrassing gaffe barely a week before a British general election.
Brown telephoned the woman to apologise a short time after meeting her while out campaigning, but the incident risks clouding the poll race ahead of next Thursday's ballots, in which Brown is struggling to cling on to power.
The Labour party leader was meeting voters in Rochdale, northwest England, when he encountered an elderly widow and, in front of TV cameras, had a discussion with her about the size of the national debt, tax and immigration.
Immediately after the conversation, Brown got into his car and was driven away but was still wearing a microphone, allowing broadcasters to pick up a discussion he had with an aide about the encounter.
"That was a disaster," Brown said. "Should never have put me with that woman -- whose idea was that?" He added: "She was just a sort of bigoted woman."
The woman, Gillian Duffy, told reporters that she wanted an apology from Brown over his "very upsetting" comments.
"I'm very disappointed," said Duffy, who described herself as a lifelong supporter of Brown's Labour party. "He's an educated person, why is he coming out with words like that?"
Asked whether she wanted to see Brown get back in Downing Street after what he said to her, she added: "I'm not bothered whether he does or not now."
Brown later said sorry, telling BBC radio: "I apologise profusely to the lady concerned. I don't think she is that."
Brown's spokesman said the prime minister had called Duffy to say sorry.
"He was letting off steam in the car after a difficult conversation. But this is exactly the sort of conversation that is important in an election campaign and which he will continue to have with voters," he said.
Brown's ruling Labour party is currently third in most opinion polls, behind the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
A Times/Populus poll published Thursday put the Conservatives on 36 percent, the Liberal Democrats on 28 percent and Labour on 27 percent.
The Conservatives were quick to condemn the remarks.
George Osborne, their finance spokesman, told Sky News television: "We have found out the prime minister's internal thoughts ... and I think they speak for themselves and the prime minister has got a lot of explaining to do."
Lance Price, a deputy director of communications at Downing Street when Tony Blair was prime minister, predicted the comments could cause Brown problems as Britain heads into the final week of the campaign.
"It will be endlessly talked about," he told Sky. "It will be described as a gaffe and it was a gaffe."
The incident comes on the eve of the last of three live television debates Thursday evening between Brown and his Conservative and Liberal Democrat rivals, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
The first debate two weeks ago triggered a surge in support for Clegg, and a series of polls since then have put the Liberal Democrats in second place, leaving Brown's party trailing in third.
© 2010 AFP