The journalist from Sky News was in some kind of hysterical state of tumescence as he cackled "Gordon Brown's done a gaffe and we wondered if you'd come on to respond. You've got to see it!" on my answering service, and I'm sorry I deleted it rather than release it in to the public domain. The BBC was no less sensationalist in its pokey recording of Brown sitting listening to his own surreptitiously recorded voice played back to him.
Our election-weary friends in the mainstream media have been looking for banana skins and gaffes since day one of the campaign - looking so hard that even something like calling a bigot a bigot is suddenly a 'gaffe', because it was caught on a microphone, because it was a mistake, because it wasn't intended for broadcast, because it revealed something off-message. Iannucci calls the media 'shrieking gibbons' but I prefer the idea of slobbering jackals feasting on roadkill. It's pack behaviour and doesn't tell us anything about what's really going on.
But election reporters are like football fourth officials: they're constantly watching the technical area to see if a manager steps out for half a second, most of the time bored out of their brains while nothing happens; but if they do step over the white line, suddenly they've got all the power in the world - suddenly it's their moment to shine. Look! Look! Someone did a silly! I saw it! I did my job! Look! Look at me!
Today's Bigotgate could be the story of Manish Sood, who told his local paper that Gordon Brown was the worst Prime Minister ever. It's clearly off message for a candidate, and he's also a British Asian complaining about immigration, which I imagine will have set the fireworks off in certain newsrooms in London when they read that bit. The story has 'legs'. It's part of the reason why the mainstream say they haven't been giving the Philippa Stroud story the coverage that some of us might think it's deserved.
Whereas Philippa Stroud was a candidate allegedly doing stuff years ago - shocking and horrifying though it is - it's not someone saying it now. It lacks the 'election week banana skin' credentials, so apparently it's not as much of a story. Now I may disagree with that and you may, but we won't be seeing TV crews hastily rushing to outside Stroud's door to interview her; whereas I imagine half of Fleet Street is tearing over to Norfolk to speak to Manish Sood. The gaffe is the story - they've found another one at last! And a Labour one as well, which helps. Would it be the same if a Tory candidate came out and said David Cameron was the worst Tory leader ever? I doubt it. Does that mean Labour are more disorganised, or less tightly controlled? Or is it just some candidate with no chance of being elected coming out with something controversial? Is it really a story? Apparently it is:
However, on the TheyWorkForYou site are views from one candidate, coincidentally also in the same part of the world as the 'Labour man', that seem to have escaped attention - it's not a Labour candidate so maybe it's not so much of a story. But, well, see for yourself:
That's not news though. Call Afghans 'backwards tribal wankers' and you can comfortably escape any scrutiny at all; call Gordon Brown the worst Prime Minister ever and you can expect a visit from 500 TV vans to your house in the next half-an-hour. It's the desperate search for a gaffe and something that's a mistake; maybe we expect Ukip candidates to be bigoted, so it's not a surprise, whereas we expect New Labour candidates to be on message, so it is something out of the ordinary. Whatever it is, it's interesting to see what does get covered and what doesn't.