GORDON Brown fell victim yesterday to the curse of the open microphone just as Tony Blair did when George W Bush greeted him so casually and condescendingly at a G8 meeting in 2008. The fact is that we all say things to family, close friends and colleagues which would be better not said in public. But for politicians the unguarded comment, once made and overheard, cannot be retracted.

Gillian Duffy, a life-long Labour supporter in Rochdale, complained to Mr Brown that “All these East Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?” In the context of her full remarks she gave the impression that she believed immigrants are taking financial and other social resources from British-born people, a view that Mr Brown tried to correct. In the car afterwards, with his microphone still switched on, Mr Brown said to a colleague: “She was just a sort of bigoted woman.” Later he apologised to Mrs Duffy and said he was “mortified” by the incident.

The dictionary says that a bigot is “a person who is intolerant, especially regarding religion, politics or race” and on that definition Mr Brown might be able to argue that “sort of bigoted” was not far off the mark. But that's not the point. He stumbled into making a serious political error and he and his party will probably pay the price for it in this already over-heated election.