If ever there was a moment when Gordon Brown lost this election it was today at lunchtime when he finished talking to a pensioner Gillian Duffy and stepped into his car with the radio mike still on, and launched, much to the amazement of to the waiting possee of journalists, into a irritated outburst about the interview with Mrs Duffy. Among the priceless moments, he told his staff that she was a bigoted women, this encounter was a disaster, and the interview should never have taken place. His staff in the car are heard to mumble apologies.
If you actually listen to Gordon Brown’s discussion with Mrs Duffy, you feel that, as things go, it went quite well. Brown is all smiles, and charmingly answers Mrs Duffy’s questions. She emerges from the interview feeling that Mr Brown is a nice guy and she confirms her labour vote. Job done.
His reaction back inside – what he thought was – the sanctity of his car is nothing short of astonishing. To say the interview should never have happened, that it was a disaster, and Mrs Duffy was a bigot, are three exaggerations out of all proportion to what actually took place. The interview was not – by any means – a disaster, she was by no means a bigot and there was no reason on earth for the encounter to have been vetoed. This is an election after all! And compared to Cameron’s ambush by the man with a disabled child, chicken feed for a man of Brown’s experience.
So what was going on? Brown – ever the control freak – was caught slightly off guard by the immigration question. He reacts in a classic way: find someone to blame and get the nature of the incident totally out of proportion. He is actually a long way from the charming, joking ‘I am a nice guy’ Gordon on display for the cameras. If you look at the footage, the moment between the final smile and wave, to the diatribe, is about 4 seconds. He turns instantly into a paranoid, unpleasant, and out of control boss looking for someone to blame amongst his staff and getting completely over-wrought in the process. Not for one second does he blame his performance on himself; it is ALL someone else’s fault. And his reaction before the apology, when confronted by journalists about the incident, is to blame them for broadcasting it in the first place. It beggars belief.
It is very poor leadership on Brown’s behalf. He wants people to believe in him, and wants credibility BUT someone who so obvioulsy has a ‘front’ for the public and a real self for his staff, is doomed to never achieve that. He is no different from the CEO who stands up in a public forum and tells his or her staff how important they are and how supportive he or she is of them, and then yells at the first person to put a foot out of line. Long ago Tom Peters told us to ‘Walk the Talk’. It still applies, and it applies to politicians as well as company executives. What a gift to the opposition and on the day before the final, decisive leadership debate. As I said, this was a defining moment.