Brown must not be distracted by 'Bigotgate', says Harriet Harman
Gordon Brown must focus on the economy in the final televised leaders debate in Birmingham - and avoid being distracted by the blow to his campaign after he branded a pensioner “bigoted”, according to Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman.
Ms Harman was in the Black Country and Birmingham to campaign alongside John Prescott and Ian Austin, Labour’s Minister for the West Midlands.
She visited a Sure Start centre in Dudley, to highlight Conservative plans to concentrate child care funding in areas with high levels of deprivation.
Labour supports a universal system with similar funding levels in all parts of the country, and said Conservative proposals would mean cutting funding for Sure Start in middle-income areas.
But Ms Harman also spoke about the third and final televised debate, taking place at the University of Birmingham on Thursday night.
She said: “Gordon Brown needs to remind the country that we are at a real crossroads. We really need to support the economy, and he is the person with the right plan to take the country forward.
“The Tories would just stand back and let the recession take its course, and if people vote Liberal Democrat then you have David Cameron coming in through the back door.”
Ms Harman said she did not believe the Prime Minister’s comments to 66-year-old Gillian Duffy would dominate the debate.
“I hope it won’t. He obviously very much regrets it. He has apologised to her in person. I think it is right that he did that.
“It was an off-the-cuff remark that he very much regretted.”
The Prime Minister’s comment - caught on microphone as he drove away from a campaign event in Rochdale - overshadowed Labour’s efforts to highlight their policies on crime and the economy.
It came after he was buttonholed by former council worker Mrs Duffy, who asked him a series of questions about the economy, tax, universities and immigration.
As Mr Brown was swept away in his car, he told an aide the encounter had been “a disaster”, unaware that his words were being transmitted by a Sky News radio microphone which he had forgotten to remove.
“That was a disaster,” the PM said. “They should never have put me with that woman.”
Asked what Mrs Duffy had said, he replied: “She was just a bigoted woman.”
When informed of his comments, Mrs Duffy said she was “very upset” and wanted an apology.
Mr Brown later went to 65-year-old Gillian Duffy’s home in Rochdale to say sorry.
He emerged after almost 45 minutes to declare himself a “penitent sinner” who was “mortified” at what he had done.