Saying what he thinks
OK, why does this look so bad? After all, as Labour are desperately spinning, everyone says things under their breath. Remember John Major’s ‘bastards’? What about Nick Clegg being overheard saying that he wanted to demote Chris Huhne and thought that Steve Webb was useless?
It’s true enough – no-one would really want their private thoughts being broadcast to the world. But the reason that this gaffe is so utterly toxic is the message it portrays. As Lord St John of Fawsley said of Mrs Thatcher long ago, “When she speaks without thinking, she says what she thinks.” Both Major and Clegg’s gaffes were illuminating because they revealed what they really thought. This was politically embarrassing, but not devastating. It was hard not to sympathise with Major’s view of his Eurosceptic colleagues, and which of us has not secretly thought that Steve Webb (who?) over-promoted as Lib Dem transport spokesman (or whatever. Environment? Local Government? The man's a blank).
But Brown’s outburst was a contemptuous dismissal of an inoffensive woman, who practically embodies Labour’s core vote. It’s remarkably instructive of the way he thinks – she worries, mildly, about immigration. She is therefore a bigoted old woman. If you disagree with me, you are not just wrong but evil. It’s a mindset not totally unknown on the left, but it really is deeply unattractive when brought out into the open.