I WATCHED every excruciating moment of Gordon’s Gaffe. From now on a “Mrs Duffy moment” will be shorthand for every embarrassing moment any of us has to endure. I never thought I’d hear myself say it, but I actually did feel sorry for the bumbling, inept, rather crabby old geezer who’s our Prime Ministeras he was forced to listen on BBC News to his own ill-chosen words, broadcast to the nation. Everybody’s nightmare: like the moment you press the button and realise you’ve sent an inappropriately-worded email or text to the wrong person.
I suspect I won’t be alone in feeling sorry for Gordo – but as I watched him emerge after 40 minutes (40 minutes!) trying to redeem the situation with an apology to the straight-talking, no-nonsense, Mrs Duffy, who hadn’t even given him a particularly hard time with her wide-ranging questions, I was reminded of a golden moment from Faulty Towers. Basil has hired a builder – genial, cheap and incompetent – to effect a minor repair to a garden wall. He’s made a complete hash of it, and left a trail of destruction in the garden. As Sybil hoves into view, Basil takes one look at the hapless odd-job man standing expectantly in the doorway, grinning from ear to eye: “Don’t smile! Dear God, please don’t smile,” he begs, as he sees the smoke coming out of Sybil’s nostrils.
It’s what I want to say to Gordon: please – don’t smile. It doesn’t become you. We know you’re a bit of an old curmudgeon. It’s partly what we like about you – that you are (or were, ’til the slippery Peter and his entourage got his hands on you) that rare breed, an un-spun politician. We know you take life too seriously, and that smiling doesn’t come easily to those heavy jowels. When you try to do it, we see a rictus grin (operated, as one astute commentator put it this week, by Mandelson’s remote control) and it’s not just your pain we feel, it’s your embarrassment. Never more so than when you emerged from that little Rochdale house, trying to look as though it had all been resolved, and that you were happy and relaxed. You weren’t: and it showed.
The smile was to my mind worse than the original gaffe, which at least had the benefit of being genuine.