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.

 

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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