A couple of weeks ago Simon Hoggart wrote in the Guardian of how refreshing it would be if the ordinary voters featured in TV vox pops and the like were challenged from time to time on the nonsense they spout.
It’s not just vox pops and the like that reveal the ignorance of ordinary voters. The volatility of opinion polls also shows that ordinary voters know very little; if they were expert, their views would not be so easily changed.
Sadly we’re a long way from a time when ordinary voters are challenged; just the opposite. Gillian Duffy, a woman who asks ‘All these Eastern Europeans what are coming in… where are they coming from?’ has become the celebrity of the election. Andrew Grimes of the Manchester Evening News (an old fogey who needs to sack his wig maker or barber; it’s hard to tell) reckons we’ll remember her for fifty years. Just like the ordinary Labour voters of the last election, like Margaret Dixon.
Watching Gordon Brown’s exchange with Gillian Duffy, it’s clear that not knowing where East Europeans come from is not the only gap in her knowledge. She’s an ignorant woman in many ways and yet she is also highly opinionated. That’s an ugly trait in anyone; opinions based on ignorance are clearly prejudices. That is to say, Gillian Duffy looks and sounds very much like a bigot. But to be fair to Gillian Duffy, when Gordon Brown was able to get a word in, she tended to let him put her right so perhaps bigot was slightly strong.
This encounter in Rochdale seemed to mark a return to a time before elections were dominated by X-Factor style TV debates. Back in 2005 Maria Hutchings, another ordinary Labour voter, challenged Tony Blair on television regarding her Tory council’s decision to close her autistic son’s special school. She turned out to be a something of a bigot and is now fighting one of the Tory’s top target seats.
Meanwhile, an ordinary voter, Jonathan Bartley, who had actually read the Tory manifesto and was able to quote it back David Cameron got comparatively little coverage. This voter and his disabled son confronted Cameron head on and floored the Tory leader who was able to do little more than go on about his own, now dead, disabled son.
If any ordinary voter deserved to become hero of the election it was Jonathan Bartley, but this rare exchange of substance just didn’t work for the media.