To mark ten years since the 2010 general election, I will be looking back at the election campaign as it happened 10 years ago to the day. Each week I will be doing a recap of the campaign as it happened, including the pivotal moments that decided the victors and the vanquished.
In this blog, I’ll be taking a look at the events that made up the final full week of the general election campaign.
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With the election drawing ever closer and the election looking like a close three-horse race, the stakes could not be higher – especially for incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown, with his Labour Party trailing into third place in some polls. However, this week of the campaign would be overshadowed by a remark he made after meeting a Labour voter from Rochale.
As Brown visited Rochdale, he met a pensioner and lifelong Labour voter Gillian Duffy, who complained to the prime minister about the number of Eastern Europeans coming to the UK, who she claimed were receiving benefits ahead of vulnerable people. Once the conversation ended and Brown returned to his prime ministerial car, he had a conversation with his communications director Justin Forsyth which was caught on mic.
GB “That was a disaster. Should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that?”
JF: “I don’t know, I didn’t see her.”
GB: It was Sue (Susan Nye, diary secretary to Brown) I think, just ridiculous.”
JF: “What did she say?”
GB: “Everything, she was just a sort of bigoted woman that said she used to be Labour, I mean it’s just ridiculous”
Brown had been wearing a Sky News microphone which he forgot to remove, and the clip was widely broadcast. Duffy was told about his remarks and said she was “disgusted”, adding she won’t vote now. She appeared bemused as to what she said that he considered bigoted.
In a pre-scheduled interview with Jeremy Vine, the clip was broadcast with Brown’s reaction filmed – he slumped forward and put his head in his hands as his words were replayed to him.
Brown eventually returned back to apologise to Duffy face to face, speaking to her for an hour, but she refused to speak to the press or shake his hand publicly.
Duffy was interviewed by the BBC six years later in the run-up to the EU referendum – she said she would be voting leave, saying trillions has been lost with nothing in return and that Britain is “losing its identity”.
The final debate
The BBC’s leaders’ debate came at terrible timing for Brown, only a day after Bigotgate. In his opening statement, he attempted to make light of the situation, saying “There’s a lot to this job and, as you saw yesterday, I don’t get all of it right, but I do know how to run the economy – in good times and in bad.”
The debate, hosted by veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby, focused on economic affairs – including the deficit, public finances, pensions, taxation and recovering from the recession.
Brown attacked Cameron’s plans for immediate cuts and called for continued support for the economy, but Cameron claimed that efficiency savings can be made and that Brown would continue wasting public money. Meanwhile, Clegg called for banks to be broken up to prevent another similar recession happening in the future.
Snap polls after the debate put Cameron in a comfortable lead over Clegg in second place, with Brown in a distant third.
Week of scandal
A range of smaller scandals also plagued parties this week:
- Philip Lardner, Conservative candidate for North Ayrshire and Arran, is suspended after describing homosexuality as not ‘normal behaviour’, as well as defending the far-right former Tory MP Encoch Powell – David Cameron described the comments as ‘deeply offensive and unacceptable’
- A legal attempt by the SNP to prevent the broadcast of the final TV debate, due to the party’s exclusion, fails in the courts
- Leader of UKIP Lord Pearson calls on voters to back Tory candidates in three constituencies (Somerton and Frome, Tauton Deane and Wells) – UKIP candidates in the seats are outraged and refuse to stand aside
- Labour’s candidate for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy, revealed information about postal votes cast in her constituency on Twitter, provoking an investigation into a possible breach of electoral law by Avon and Somerset Police
- A group of entreprenuers warned of the dangers of a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition in an open letter to The Times
In other news
- Former Prime Minister Tony Blair returns to the campaign trail to prop up the ailing Labour campaign -visiting a medical centre in Harrow, he insists Brown has not failed
- Nick Clegg campaigns in Labour’s northern heartlands, claiming that the party has betrayed its traditional voters
- After Standard & Poor’s downgrades Greek debt to junk status, the eurozone agree a €110 bailout for the country – the package involves harsh austerity cuts
- Troops in Thailand open fire on Red Shirt protesters in the nation’s capital Bangkok amid ongoing protests calling for fresh elections
- A car bomb parked near a theatre in Times Square was neutralised without incident – New York governor Michael Bloomberg describes the attempt as “an act of terrorism” – the perpetrator Faisal Shahzad would be arrested 53 hours later and sentenced to life imprisonment in October 2010
- At least 12 demonstrators are arrested at a rally in Aylesbury organised by the English Defence League
A Conservative lead over the two other parties began to solidify this week after an initial dip, with their average vote share up one percent on last week. The race between the Liberal Democrats and Labour began to narrow, with the Labour vote share increasing despite the Bigotgate scandal.
A rough seat projection puts the Conservatives as the largest party at 278 seats, Labour second on 260 and the Liberal Democrats third with 83 due to the first-past-the-post voting system.
Despite the slight reduction in the Liberal Democrat vote share, they still would hold the position as kingmaker if this result played out in the actual election – with the ability to provide either party with a solid majority.
The first newspapers announced who they will be backing on May 6th, and it was not good news for Labour. The Times and the Guardian, who had both backed Labour in 2005, announced their support for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats respectively.
The Sunday newspapers did not hold better news for the government with three other newspapers also changing their allegiance away from the party.
With only a few days left of the campaign, the party leaders make their last pitch to the public. In the next few days, I’ll take a closer look at each of the political parties contesting the election, as well as the final events of the election campaign, the final results and the coalition discussions that followed the election.