British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been caught on tape describing a voter who had challenged him over the economy and immigration as "bigoted", throwing the Labour Party's campaign into turmoil just one week ahead of a general election.
REUTERS - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was caught on tape describing a voter as "a bigoted woman" on Wednesday after she confronted him on immigration and the economy in an election campaign walkabout in northern England.
Brown made the unguarded comment in his car as he drove away away from a visit designed to bring him into closer contact with the broader public rather than carefully staged party meetings. His Labour Party trails the opposition Conservatives and, in some polls, the third force Liberal Democrats.
"That was a disaster," Brown was heard saying as he got into the car after an
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apparently amicable parting with the 66-year-old woman. "Whose idea was that? It's ridiculous".
When asked what she had said, Brown, still wearing a broadcast microphone, replied: "Everything, she's just sort of a bigoted woman."
Brown, who was shown on television with his head in his hands as the comments were replayed to him during an interview with the BBC, said he apologised "profusely".
Labour, which has closed the opposition Conservatives' lead in the opinion polls over the last few months, had high hopes for this week's campaigning, which centres around Thursday's economy focused television debate.
The election takes place on May 6.
The third and final leaders debate, an opportunity for former finance minister Brown to highlight his experience in handling the economy, is now likely to be overshadowed.
"It clearly won't play well in the news today and it will dominate the news when Labour wanted to be speaking about something else," said Justin Fisher, Professor of Political Science at Brunel University.
The pensioner, who said she had voted Labour, had asked Brown how he would tackle the country's record deficit as well as other issues ranging from east European immigration, pensions, university tuition fees and anti-social behaviour.
Much of Wednesday's campaigning had been focussed on the economy and Britain's record budget deficit.
Vince Cable, treasury spokesman for Britain's third party, the Liberal Democrats, told Reuters all the big parties were agreed on the need to cut government borrowing, warning that failing to do so risked Greek-style financial chaos.
Greece, which saw its debt downgraded to junk status by rating agency Standard & Poor's on Tuesday, is currently in talks with the IMF and the European Union on getting a 45 billion euro bail-out package to prevent a sovereign default.
Greece's budget deficit last year stood at 13.6 percent of GDP, compared to a British deficit running at over 11 percent.
Sterling fell to a three-week low against the dollar on Wednesday reflecting a growing concern about the state of the British public finances.
Labour Business Minister Peter Mandelson said that likening Britain to Greece was "frankly ridiculous".
"We are in a very, very different situation in Britain from that in Greece," he told reporters.
Opposition Conservative leader David Cameron said that while there were many differences between the two countries, Britain should take note of Greece's troubles.
Opinion polls on Wednesday continued to point to a hung parliament, in which no one party wins an overall majority, but showed the Conservatives and Labour had regained some ground from the third force Lib Dems, who have enjoyed a ratings boost since the first TV leaders' debate.
Britain has not had an inconclusive election since 1974 and both large parties have warned that a "hung parliament" would be bad for the country and its economy.
Repairing the public finances will be the biggest domestic policy challenge for government emerges after the election, but the parties have been reluctant to risk voters' wrath by clearly identifying the extent of cuts.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies said on Tuesday the impending spending squeeze would be the sharpest in at least 30 years and warned the parties would likely have to raise taxes more than they are prepared to admit.
Date created : 2010-04-28