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"Bigotgate" looks nastier and is far more serious than the Prescott punch

Nick Wood square Nick Wood's daily High Noon column

I was in the Central Office war-room on the night of Wednesday May 16th 2001 when John Prescott landed his infamous punch on the mullet-haired egg-thrower.

The instant media reaction was that the Deputy Prime Minister had just floored Tony Blair's re-election  bid. But in the cold light of the following day, Labour's campaign was still on track. The public judged that Prescott was much provoked and men of a certain disposition rather admired the quality of his left hook.

William Hague responded eventually (CCO had not reacted overnight) with a joke: "It is not my policy to go around hitting the voters".

To update the jibe, it is presumably not David Cameron's policy to go round apologising to voters in person. Brown, on the other hand, need not stop with Gillian Duffy. Most of the rest of us feel he owes us an apology too.

Brown's bigot blunder looks far more serious. It is unjustifiable and unprovoked. Worse, since immigration is a major concern for most people, it brands well over half the country as bigots.

Initial polling, by YouGov for The Sun, had the Tories up 1 and the Lib Dems up 3 with Labour down 2, suggesting a drop in Labour support with core voters (they haven't got anyone else left) switching to Clegg. Nine per cent of people said they were less likely to vote Labour because of Gordon's blunder; 3 per cent (who are they?) were more likely to back Labour.

All this seems to suggest that Labour's support is heading for the mid-20s while the Libs climb into the low 30s. This is good for the Conservatives because a clear lead over Labour, say around 10 points or more will put many previously safe Labour seats at risk.

David Cameron will feel vindicated today in his cautious election strategy. This was always predicated on the belief that Brown would lose the election - partly because of his manifest policy failures but also because of his brittle and unstable character. Now he has cracked under pressure and it may well prove impossible to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Brown has one last chance - the Leaders' Debate tonight. Bizarrely, the man who wrecked the economy touts himself as the only man who can put things right.

But with Greece imploding and the contagion of market fear spreading through southern Europe, Brown's credentials as our economic saviour look shakier still. Dither and delay have exacerbated Greece's horror show. But Brown and Clegg want to put off action to tackle our ghastly deficit until next year.

Cameron has an opening here: to press his case for action this day.

Nick Wood, Managing Director, Media Intelligence Partners


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