Gordon Brown’s gaffe

Thursday. Rochdale. A marginal Liberal Democrat seat regained in 2005 after 8 years of Labour. (It was Liberal from 1974-1997.) Just the sort of seat that Labour needs to win.
A Prime Minister anxious to put off his aloof and superior image. A woman – Gillian Duffy – shouting a question to him from the crowd. A golden opportunity to engage with a typical voter.
He did it quite well, but then he blew it as the tension was released as he got it to his car, and made a hasty remark, forgetting that he was “miked-up”.
I have some sympathy. Early in my career, I was part of a team building recording studios. I found out quickly how easy it was for words spoken in a soundproof studio to be be picked up by an open microphone and relayed over loudspeakers in the control and recording rooms. I also heard performers say things in the release of tension that they would have not wanted broadcast – just like Gordon Brown.
Three things have happened since then:
The first is that technology then available to only a few is now available to many. Anyone can buy for less than a hundred pounds something to make video and sound recordings that are quite usable and recognizable. Anyone with access to the internet can upload it there for anyone to view.
Secondly, just as anyone can record, anyone can be filmed. We have no privacy laws in the UK. Occasionally police try to stop people taking photographs on the grounds of security. Often this is done on doubtful legal grounds; sometimes even, the suspicion lingers that it is done because the authorities are doing things they want to keep hidden.
Thirdly, we have accepted something called “reality” television, where invasion of personal privacy is the whole point and people abandon privacy for fame. Often ordinary people are suckered into this, without understanding the implications. They become media victims.

Gordon Brown, of course, is not of course an innocent in communication or media. We already knew that he could be an impatient and abrasive man, so a slightly despairing and pessimistic comment was in character. What distinguished him from other many other people is that this off the cuff comment, perhaps harsh on Mrs. Duffy, contained neither obscenity or blasphemy – a real tribute to an upbringing in the Manse.

On the whole, I think we could forgive him, and wonder whether the time the media spent analysing the incident was all well spent.


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