Election 2010

Brown switches focus to economy

Gordon Brown insisted today he did understand public fears about immigration as he tried to move on from his "bigot" slur.

Senior ministers openly acknowledged the fall-out from his encounter yesterday with 66-year-old Gillian Duffy - who he branded a "bigoted woman" - had been damaging for Labour as they entered the final days of the campaign.

As he prepared for tonight's third and final leaders' debate - hosted by the BBC at Birmingham University - the Prime Minister said he wanted to concentrate on the economy.

"Yesterday is yesterday. Today I want to talk about the future of the economy," he declared as he addressed workers at a factory in Halesowen in the West Midlands.

But even on the issue he regards as his strong suit there was trouble, with claims that Bank of England Governor Mervyn King had warned privately about the massive scale of the cuts that would be needed after the election.

US economist David Hale told Australian TV that Mr King had confided that "whoever wins this election will be out of power for a whole generation because of how tough the fiscal austerity will have to be".

There was no comment from the Bank on his reported remarks, although it is understood that the two men met in London in early March rather than last week, as Mr Hale suggested in his interview.

But during his visit Mr Brown could not escape the issue of immigration, with one worker at the Thompson Friction Welding plant demanding to know what he was going to do about it during a question-and-answer session with staff.

Mr Brown insisted he understood the sense of public concern, pointing to the Government's introduction of an Australian-style points system for workers coming from outside the EU.

"I understand the worries people have about immigration. I understand the concerns about what is happening to people's neighbourhoods and I understand the fears that people have," he said.

Afterwards he acknowledged he should not have described Mrs Duffy as "bigoted" after she raised the issue of immigrants coming to Britain from Eastern Europe.

"I think that I have apologised and I have said that it was the wrong word to use. I am concerned about immigration and I am concerned about controlling immigration," he said.

However, he did not believe the issue would affect the outcome of the General Election, now just a week away.

"Really when it comes down to it, this election will be about the economy and about public services and how people see the future of the economy and the future of public services," he said.

Earlier, Home Secretary Alan Johnson admitted: "No one can suggest this wasn't damaging."

He said that Mr Brown was mortified for having made such a "dreadful mistake", and that Labour fully accepted that immigration was a legitimate election issue.

"The term 'bigoted' - unreasonably prejudiced and intolerant - certainly doesn't apply to Mrs Duffy," he said. "Mrs Duffy isn't bigoted, Gordon isn't a monster and the issue of immigration isn't off limits."

Neither David Cameron nor Nick Clegg wanted to be drawn on Mr Brown's comments ahead of the debate, but shadow chief treasury secretary Philip Hammond said voters would draw their own conclusions from what he said.

"What I was most struck by was the difference between what he said to Mrs Duffy when he was chatting to her and what he said about Mrs Duffy when he was in what he thought was the privacy of his own car," he told Sky News.

"People will draw their own conclusions about that."

Labour strategists had been hoping that tonight's debate focusing on the economy would be an opportunity to regain ground in a campaign which has seen them trailing in third place in the polls for much of the time.

But they found themselves trying to pick up the pieces from the fall-out of his chance encounter with Mrs Duffy, who had just popped out to buy a loaf of bread.

Sarah Brown joined a slew of Cabinet ministers rallying round in an attempt to limit the damage, insisting her "caring" husband "hated the fact he had hurt someone".

The Prime Minister had been canvassing in Rochdale when he met retired council worker Mrs Duffy, who asked him a series of questions, including about benefits and the Eastern Europeans who had been "flooding" into Britain.

As Mr Brown was swept away in his car, he told an aide the encounter had been "a disaster" describing her as "just a sort of bigoted woman", unaware that his words were being picked up by a television microphone he had forgotten to remove.

He later returned to her house to apologise in person for what he had said, after it became clear that she was deeply upset by his remarks.

Party strategists will now be scrutinising the polls for signs of how the gaffe has affected the election contest.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions