Cudjoe's Home AfricaSpeaks RaceandHistory Trinicenter
Selwyn Cudjoe Online

Gordon Brown's Disaster

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 30, 2010

It couldn't have come at worse time. You are down in the polls. You have a reputation of having raging tantrums, being dour and bereft of the common touch. Although you are a good Chancellor of the Exchequer you are seen as the ultimate bureaucrat. Your political advisors say that you have to get out more; meet the common man and woman; exude more warmth; smile a lot with them which will make the electorate feel closer to you.

You take their advice; you go out to meet the people and then disaster strikes. It's 11:40 on Wednesday morning. You go out to Rochdale just outside Manchester and greet Gillian Duffy, just the kind of Labor voter you must persuade to continue to vote for your party. She vents her fears and says, "You can't say anything about immigrants... all these eastern Europeans where are they flocking from." He calls her a "good woman" and claims he is interested in her concerns.

Five minutes later he goes back to his limousine, unaware or certainly forgets that a radio microphone is still on and give vent to his feelings. He explodes in exasperation: "That was a disaster-whose idea it was that...she was just a bigoted woman."

And then all falls down.

Forty five minutes after, Ms. Duffy is told of his comments to which she replies, "I am very upset. Why has he come out with words like that?"

Three hours later he realizes that his candor has gotten him into trouble with the voters of the nation. Against the advice of his handlers, he returns to her home to deliver an apology: "I am mortified by what's happen...I am a penitent sinner."

The next morning the press is all over him. If you think our newspapers are bad, just listen to some of the comments that blazon forth on the morning edition of the English press. The Financial Times intoned: "Brown: That was a disaster." The Daily Express admonishes: "A Hypocrite who Shames Britain: Brown calls Pensioner a bigot and then makes an apology." The Daily Telegraph announces sympathetically: "It was the day Gordon Brown met a real voter and, in his own words, it was a Day of disaster." The right-wing Daily Mail explodes: "Demonized: The Granny Who Dared to Utter the I-Word."

Now, I don't know how Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of England and political leader of the British Labour Party is going to get out of this. He is fighting a three-way race in which he trails the Conservatives by 4 percentage points and the Liberal Democrats by one percent. Yet, there was a chance that he could still have come out ahead because of the geographical distribution of the votes.

Thus, although his party has only 28 per cent of the votes, given the first past the post system as exists in Trinidad and Tobago, he was likely to end up with about 280 of the 630 seats that were up for grabs. Before his political blaspheme there was the possibility that the Lib-Dems would have formed a coalition government with his party thereby allowing him to form the next governing. Now, there is no telling what may happen.

All of this came on the day before the last debate among the leaders in which the economy was supposed to be the most compelling issue in the election. Speaking to the Financial Times the morning before his foot-in-mouth disaster took place Brown had urged the country to stick with him since he was the only man to take them through these perilous economic times.

Had done a creditable job in guiding the British economy through one of the worst economic downturns since the economic depression of the 1930s. And he seemed to be battling back, fairly successfully, from the low poll numbers his party suffered six months ago. So that hard work had paid off and stick-to-it-ness had shown its values.

And then in less than four minutes he had undone everything he had sought to do and, in one unguarded moment, brought to naught everything he had accomplished. It might be that the flood of people who are coming from Europe, Africa and the Caribbean were putting severe strains on the British economy and one had to do something about it. It had emerged as an issue in the second of the three debates the leaders had. To the electorate, the issue of immigration was second in importance to the economy.

According to the Daily Mail, he struck a cord of hypocrisy. Perhaps he could have been more forthright and tell her how he really felt. But then that would not have been the correct political thing to do since politicians never really say what they feel and, in modern day politics, perception is always just as important as substance.

In seven days we will know what the voters make of this tragedy which leads to a question, Are we ever ready, in Trinidad and Tobago or in England, to give a political pass to leader for expressing publicly what they believe privately? Basdeo Panday was clear about how he felt about black people. Patrick Manning's record of pandering to everyone except black people is evident in the choices he makes when it comes to those whom he feels are capable of running the economy. Platitudes aside, do we really know where Kamla Persad Bissessar stands on the issue of race and how she intends to mold the disparate racial threads of our society into one?

It is a question she should answer publicly before we put an x against her name on May 24.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

Share your views here...