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One of the many things I dislike about bullfighting is that there’s no fairness in the contest. The bull is a bum of the month. The minute it sets hoof in the ring, it is dead.

Footage usually shows these poor beasts staggering around, shish kebabed, while a spangly little guy humiliates them with a pink cape before running them through. On the odd occasion our bovine heroes actually get some payback – spinning the bullfighter up into the air, divesting him of a pound of flesh, a few litres of blood and maybe a bollock or two – there’s no love for them, far less roses. The concern is all for the matador: but where’s the glory for the winner? It was a fight, after all. Even when the poor bugger triumphs, it gets whacked. It’s inevitable, a fait accompli. Slick with its own blood, exhausted, hunched, destined for a dinner plate or a mantelpiece. Waiting for someone to put it out of its misery.

And so to Rochdale, where we saw another bovine creature stumbling around on its journey to the steakhouse. It wasn’t quite the coup de grace for Gordon Brown, but it’s surely coming. It was the gaffe everyone had been waiting for, and it came from the man least well equipped to handle it. A Sky news mic placed on a lapel and conveniently forgotten about, a snipey comment, a private moment made public in the most horrible way, a little old lady turned into a star – the new Susan Boyle? – and the Prime Minister’s fate was sealed.

The spin machine went into a most environmentally unsound cycle almost from the moment Sky broke the story. Brown addressed the matter within an hour during a radio interview at the BBC, but, in an astonishingly ugly irony, he was unaware that he was being filmed. Tired, unkempt, greying visibly before our eyes, Gordon Brown slumped, head in his hands. First came the words, then came the pictures.

You can only wonder at the horror the Prime Minister must have felt when he realised he’d double-dipped the farce; it seemed like an attack from some multi-dimensional imp, the same one which has been torturing him since 2007. First of all, an invisible Brown was hamstrung by the fact that he uttered sounds which people could hear, without anyone actually seeing him. Then, when Brown thought that people could only hear him, but not see him, there he was, crumbling in horrible detail. The imp shrieked laughter. Brown was William Shatner in Nightmare At 30,000ft.

It’s worth reflecting on the events that led Gordon Brown to the precipice. In an effort to put himself front-and-centre in Labour’s election campaign, he found himself in Greater Manchester, talking to Gillian Duffy, a 66-year-old widow who had apparently only popped out to get some milk. She engaged the PM in conversation, touching on some thorny topics for any Government – immigration, proposed public spending cuts, the deficit.

The assembled political journalists hoping for a slip or a gaffe in this exchange were initially disappointed – Brown was firm and decisive. He explained exactly how he was going to pay for things, how he was tackling the workshy, and rolling out a statistic which many of the immigration-obsessed might not have been aware of – that millions of Britons live and work abroad, just as many people from the continent live and work in Britain. It went well for Brown. Mrs Duffy, perhaps dazzled by the spotlight, confessed at the end that she was a Labour supporter and would be voting for Mr Brown’s party again on May 6. So far, so good.

But there was one comment which seemed to irk Mr Brown. Mrs Duffy asked where all the “eastern Europeans” were coming from. The answer was in the question, surely. But she expressed the question in a curious way: “Where are they flocking from?” Say it quickly to yourself, right now. Especially the “flocking” bit.

Some wags have suggested that the Prime Minister could have gotten away with it if he had simply said, “You misheard me – I didn’t call her a ‘bigoted woman’, I called her a ‘big-hearted woman’.”

In the same vein, it would have been possible to claim that he had mis-heard what Mrs Duffy said – not “Where are they flocking from?” but  “Where are they fucking from?” Which, it’s entirely possible, is what Gordon Brown heard. Leading to him, quite reasonably, branding her a bigot.

So we add a little bit of bad luck, and Brown’s electoral disaster was fully in motion, a juggernaut.

Well, not quite bad luck: Sky fucked him. No doubt about it. You could hardly blame journalists for wanting to go with a scoop like that landing in their lap, but I would wonder if they’d have been so quick to broadcast had Rupert Murdoch’s boy, David Cameron, made a similar comment about the man with the disabled child who tackled him on the street the previous day. It’s easily done, isn’t it? An awkward exchange, then, once you’re apparently safe within the confines of your limousine after undergoing a degree of public exposure and stress which most of us can only have nightmares about, you make a little comment. There but for the grace of god, and all that.

Once Brown’s bombshell went off, Sky had a whole rogues’ gallery of right-wing commentators lining up to give him a kicking – Amanda Platell, someone from the Daily Mail, John Major’s former spin doctor. Who did they bring in for balance (and remember, by law, broadcasters must be seen to be even-handed during elections)? Lord Mandelson.

John Prescott, bless him, tried his best to turn this around, going all-out to brand Sky as co-conspirators against Mr Brown, with Rupert Murdoch pulling the strings. Which would be laudable if it wasn’t for the fact that Prescott, along with Tony Blair, was quite happy to pucker up for Murdoch during the previous three elections when the News Corp chief supported the New Labour Project.

But, back to Rochdale, where the media outdid itself by camping out on Mrs Duffy’s front lawn while Brown went back on his hands and knees, imploring her pardon. He was in there for what seemed like an age while the broadcasters and hacks fought for space in her garden.

What was he doing, one wonders? Passing over a suitcase-full of cash? Drawing a bead on her with a service revolver? Making vague threats as he handled the family photographs on her mantelpiece? We don’t know at this point, but when Brown finally did emerge he was looking better. He’d had some slap put on, had had his hair done. As the press corps drifted away, the Sky News reporter at the time began to grow uneasy, referring to the fact that this woman was now world-famous in a way she couldn’t have dreamed of, cowering behind the curtains as the world’s media milled around her property, unbidden.

What happens if she dies? I couldn’t help but wonder. If all the strain, all that merciless attention, pulls a plug somewhere in her system? How would that affect the coverage?

It certainly pulled the plug on the Labour Party. Whether this incident really changes the course of this singular election remains to be seen, but even if – and it’s unlikely now – Gordon Brown stumbles back into Number 10, he won’t be there long. He’s taken too many of those skewers. The matador humiliating him could just as easily be David Miliband as David Cameron or Nick Clegg.

Gordon Brown has had next to no chance. Some of it’s his own fault – you really, really should have called that election when you had the chance, mate – but the opprobrium he has faced has been far beyond what he’s deserved. He didn’t cause the global financial crisis. He didn’t invade Iraq and Afghanistan. It wasn’t him who jumped into bed with a bunch of lunatics across the Atlantic. But he is certainly paying for it all now.

And being Scottish isn’t a crime either, so far as I’m aware. A lot of the anti-Brown caterwauling from good, solid, middle-of-the-road voters like Mrs Duffy have had a decidedly anti-Scots flavour to them. “A one-eyed Scottish idiot” is how Jeremy Clarkson described Brown. Lazy prejudice? Simple facts of the matter? I’ll leave it up to you.

In an election where personality is king and policy is pushed aside – can’t anyone have a proper go at the Tories over this complete and utter nonsense about Big Society? – people just don’t take to awkward, bovine Gordon Brown. They are tired of the Labour Government, and in middle England, where elections are won and lost, this is enough.

But don’t worry Gordon – they won’t actually kill you, fella. You’ll be put out to pasture at your lovely house overlooking the water, with Sarah to tend to you and the little ones to comfort you while you ponder your next move – perhaps to a charity, which will suit you well.

I do think there’s a very upright, moral core to Gordon Brown, in spite of the grumpiness and flashes of sourness. History sometimes looks kindly upon statesmen who were unpopular while in office, and I have a feeling Gordon Brown will be very well respected in future, if never quite loved.

Does he have one last stand in him? One last chance to hurl the bullfighter into the air before they take him out the back and do the decent thing, away from the baying crowds? We’ll know soon enough.

Thanks for reading. Take care now.

Hfff (scratchy sounds). Bloody people… ffff… fucking idiots… waste of time… snort. Yeah, top me up. That’s it. Keep going. Don’t be shy with it, now, come on. I’m thirsty. Right to the top. Great. Yes, cheers. Here’s to me. Gulp.

Hey. Shit – is this thing still on?

(crackle, silence)

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One Comment

  1. Would have loved it if Brown had answered her ” eastern europe”- As you say, tyhe clue was in the question.


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