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Is The Mike On? Britain's Gordon Brown Is The Latest To Pay The Price

Apr 29, 2010

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Of all the issues in play in Britain's upcoming elections, it would be startling if an open microphone would be what brought Gordon Brown's Labor Party down after 13 years in power.

But it's possible.

Brown, for those who haven't heard this, was campaigning on Wednesday and met with a 65-year old woman, Gillian Duffy, a Labor supporter who nonetheless had been criticizing the prime minister for his economic and immigration policies.  It was a non-confrontational meeting, with the assorted pleasantries.  That was until Brown got back into his limousine.

"That was a disaster," he said, his wired microphone still on.  "They should never have put me with that woman.  Whose idea was that?  Ridiculous."  And when he was asked by one of his aides what Duffy said, Brown replied, "Everything, she was just a bigoted woman."

You can watch and hear the incident here:

According to the Guardian's Polly Curtis, Brown's comments "are likely to refocus attention back to previous allegations about his temper and character." 

It could also help end Labor's 13-year run and put Conservative David Cameron into the prime minister's office.

If so, it won't be the first time an unguarded comment, or one certainly unintended for public airing, made a politician uncomfortable.  Here are some other incidents that come to mind:

— In an early 1984 conversation he thought to be private, U.S. presidential candidate Jesse Jackson disparaged Jews as "Hymies" and referred to New York City as "Hymietown."  Washington Post reporter Milton Coleman, who is black, attended the conversation and reported on it.

— In his 2006 bid for re-election, a race he was clearly favored to win, Sen. George Allen (R-VA) pointed to a dark-skinned man at a rally and called him "macaca."  Allen, who was already measuring the drapes for a 2008 presidential bid, was narrowly defeated by Democrat Jim Webb.

— Running for a fourth term in 1998, Sen. Al D'Amato (R-NY) referred to his Democratic opponent, Rep. Charles Schumer, as a "putz head."  The comment came in a closed door breakfast meeting with Jewish leaders in late October.  While many observers of that particularly nasty race could with some justification call either candidate a "putz head," it was D'Amato's initial denial of using the term — which means anything from "penis" to "fool" to "jerk" — and then confession that kept it alive as an issue.  And helped put Schumer into the Senate.

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