LONDON (AFP) – Prime Minister Gordon Brown was caught out calling a voter a “bigoted woman” Wednesday, in an embarrassing gaffe on the campaign trail barely a week before the general election.
Brown apologised a short time later, but the incident risks clouding the poll race ahead of next Thursday’s election.
The Labour party leader was meeting voters in Rochdale, northwest England, when he encountered an elderly widow and had a discussion with her about the size of the national debt, tax and immigration.
Immediately after the conversation, Brown got into his car and was driven away but was still wearing a microphone, allowing broadcasters to pick up a discussion he had with an aide about the encounter.
“That was a disaster,” Brown said. “Should never have put me with that woman — whose idea was that?” He added: “She was just a sort of bigoted woman.”
The woman, Gillian Duffy, told reporters that she wanted an apology from Brown over his “very upsetting” comments.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Duffy, who described herself as a lifelong supporter of Brown’s Labour party. “He’s an educated person, why is he coming out with words like that?”
Asked whether she wanted to see Brown get back in Downing Street after what he said to her, she added: “I’m not bothered whether he does or not now.”
Brown later said sorry, telling BBC radio: “I apologise profusely to the lady concerned. I don’t think she is that”.
His Labour party is currently third in most opinion polls, behind the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
A Times/Populus poll published Thursday put the Conservatives on 36 percent, the Liberal Democrats on 28 percent and Labour on 27 percent.
The Conservatives were quick to condemn the remarks.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, told Sky News television: “We have found out the prime minister’s internal thoughts … and I think they speak for themselves and the prime minister has got a lot of explaining to do.”
Lance Price, a deputy director of communications at Downing Street when Tony Blair was prime minister, predicted the comments could cause Brown problems as Britain heads into the final week of the campaign.
“It will be endlessly talked about,” he told Sky. “It will be described as a gaffe and it was a gaffe.”