The real reason Brown got angry with Gillian Duffy

In her brief exchange with the PM, the Rochdale pensioner put her finger on everything that Gordon Brown wishes he didn't have to face up to in this election.

"Brown toast" says The Sun. It's a sentiment backed up by the headlines in most of the other papers. "Brown's bigot blunder plunges Labour campaign into crisis", says The Times headline. And even the Guardian which made Greece its main headline admitted that "bigot gaffe torpedoes campaign."

But the interesting thing about this whole affair is that it shouldn't be the bigot comment that torpedoes Brown's future, but the transcript of his conversation with the rather admirable Gillian Duffy printed in full in, among others, the Mirror. Why? Because in a matter of a few minutes she manages to put her finger on every single real issue facing Britain today, and hence every reason why Labour does not deserve any more chances.

She asks about the taxing of her pension why give with one hand and take with the other? She asks "how are you going to get us out of all this debt?" and gets the usual misleading answer about cutting "the debt in half over four years", when the plans such as they are are to cut the deficit (the amount by which we're overspending), not the debt.

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Then she moves on to the failures of the benefits system "there's too many people now who aren't vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can't claim." She gets no proper answer to that either. Next, immigration. What of the millions of immigrants putting pressure on local services? she asks. She gets no real answer. Then she fingers him on social mobility, asking how she can expect her grandchildren to go to university when fees are so high.

No wonder he lost it when he thought he was rid of her: she tried to make him confront in public nearly every single thing that Labour has been hoping we haven't noticed. I'm not sure that knowing Gordon Brown has a bad temper and can be nasty to people will make any difference to the election in itself. But if anything might make a floating voter come over all Lib Dem, the Gillian Duffy transcript has got to be it.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.