Why was the encounter between Gordon Brown and Gillian Duffy in Rochdale so achingly uncomfortable?
Not because he groaned â€˜bigoted womanâ€™ – he wasnâ€™t wrong; not because the top man hadnâ€™t answered a customerâ€™s complaints â€“ he had; not because he couldnâ€™t spin an explanation of party policy â€“ he had; not because he had failed to manage a conversation with Labour Party kin â€“ he had; That was his problem â€“ he â€˜managedâ€™ his dialogue. He answered her, but he didnâ€™t engage with her. He made no concessions. What he, and everyone around him â€“ and many commentators, too, didnâ€™t appreciate was that the white woman in Rochdale also managed: she wasnâ€™t an ingÃ©nue, she wasnâ€™t ignorant, had a clear, coherent and unyielding critique of her party that should have engineered equality but decided not to. Her final poignant protest about student fees should have alerted Brown and his comrades to what was exercising Gillian Duffy: this women knew exactly what was different for the working class between now, and then â€“ when her own generation could enjoy â€˜great expectationsâ€™ but her grandchildrenâ€™s generation seems doomed to hard times. Immigration reared up, as it always does, as both bigotry and as a proxy for pitiless disappointment.
The tragedy of the encounter was that he expected her to be grateful, and she was angry about everything.