What Brown could say tonight

Can he turn nightmare into opportunity?

So, can Gordon Brown turn his worst nightmare into his greatest opportunity? On the face of it, "bigotgate" has almost no redeeming features. It could, admittedly, have been worse: he could have sworn. And as Charles Kennedy said minutes before I was about to join the debate on Sky News this morning, the public may warm to his "human" side, and be somewhat repelled by what in some cases could be seen as a form of bear-baiting.

Tonight's debate in Birmingham, meanwhile, presents one last crucial chance for Brown to connect with the electorate. This otherwise unlucky politician can be thankful, at least, that such a spectacular and media-friendly "gaffe" did not happen after it.

Nonetheless, and although Brown has today said "yesterday was yesterday", yesterday will arguably haunt him tonight, unless he deals with it straight away. If he can do that, as Kennedy said, he can then expect to move on to the substantial issues and not be hounded about it throughout the hour-and-a-half-long programme.

With luck, Brown can instead move on to the economy and dominate the debate. But first, if I was advising Brown (and luckily for him and me I am not), I would encourage him to start by saying something like this:

I want to address the British people directly, about an area that I am usually not comfortable discussing in public: character.

Yesterday, I made a bad mistake. After hours of campaigning on the road, and after misunderstanding some perfectly innocent remarks, I allowed my frustrations to get the better of me in the privacy of my car. I do not blame the 24-hour media for picking up on it; I blame only myself. Why? Because I betrayed myself.

I ask you to believe me when I say that my anger is my passion: passion for the values of fairness that are deeply ingrained in my character. And they are the same values of the majority of the British people -- a great people whose sense of decency and justice sometimes struggles to be heard above the shouting in politics and the media.

I am for middle and modest earners, for those who work hard, for those who take responsibility. And that is why I take responsibility for my own flaws. I am very far from perfect.

But in the past 24 hours, I have learned something about myself. I have in the past been, at times, too aggressive, too impatient. And in turn, I have promised myself and I promise you now: I will always strive to improve.

Because in the end, this great country's future is too important to be about personality: but it is partly about character.

And I live to serve: to get up early every morning and fight hard for British values, and not go to bed until the day's fighting has been done. Tonight, I humbly ask you to let me serve, and together we can change Britain for good.