Fellow northerner Janice Turner clarifies for me why I felt so strongly about Gordon Brown's contempt for Gillian Duffy. From The Times:
The most poignant moment of that dreadful day in Rochdale was when Gillian Duffy asked the Sky reporter exactly what the Prime Minister had said about her in his car. You could see from her beaming expectation that she’d counted on a “marvellous woman!” at the very least. Maybe even a chuckling “she should be in the Cabinet”. But the truth made Mrs Duffy’s face plummet like a sponge when you slam the oven door and I felt fury as well as her shame: Gordon had dissed all my aunties.
I wasn’t alone: “How could he?” wailed a friend watching Newsnight. “That was my nan!”
For anyone raised in the North, something had happened that defied the natural order. My childhood was run by redoubtable matriarchs like Mrs Duffy: their judgments were to be feared, not tossed aside. Their tongues were as eye-watering as the sudden slaps they could administer to the backs of your legs.
Mrs Duffy, 66, is a remnant of a once formidable female army: women who didn’t worry that they were disappearing as their sexual allure faded because they knew that in their families and communities they wielded real clout. Vanity flowered briefly and ended after courtship, youth wasn’t chased in vain through the Pilates studios and magazine pages. Instead of diminishing with age they grew both in social stature and girth: a dress size with every decade yet compressed into rock hardness by the pantygirdle, a garment that would snort with derision at its flimsy modern rival, Spanx.
They relished how the decline of oestrogen excused them from the hurly-burly of sexual congress. They weren’t cougars, but battle-scarred lionesses. They’d sniff at the news that sexed-up fiftysomething women are boosting the lingerie business as they pulled on a pair of drawers. Their lives were all elbow grease and varicose veins, but with menopause came an entitlement to speak, a magnificent, life-changing unembarrassability: the right to admonish complete strangers in the street.
Seeing Mrs Duffy’s irreproachable front step, watching her toddle off to the shops for a loaf in her indestructible coat, with her shampoo and set — more a lifestyle than a hairstyle — I was reminded of my Auntie Edie who died in the no-nonsense manner in which she’d lived — in her sleep after finishing her batch of summer jam, a meal for my uncle under a plate in the fridge.
Tolerating flakey husbands, picking up the emotional detritus of flakier children, enduring without rancour widowhood as long as marriage itself, they earned respect for their frankness. The novelist Hilary Mantel said of the women from her Derbyshire childhood: “They’d been nowhere, but they’d seen everything.”
And these ladies built the Labour movement, although they got no credit for their tea-making and bap-buttering, sitting with Thermos flasks “telling” outside polling stations all election day long. They didn’t expect to run for office but they did relish the right to sound off. Which is why Gillian Duffy felt entitled — with respect, but not undue deference — to call her Prime Minister to account.
There is some justice that Mrs Duffy — the type of woman no longer lauded but laughed at as a sitcom archetype old bag — has been the most prominent, perhaps only, female presence in this contest. The leaders’ debates are three men moderated by a male journalist, the sofas of Newsnight are routinely and unapologetically filled with ranks of manly bottoms, and you are left wondering if TV producers have forgotten that the electorate is 51 per cent female.
While the low-key presence of George Osborne has been widely noted, the almost invisibility of Harriet Harman, Theresa May and Yvette Cooper has passed without comment. A female politician is, by her very nature, assumed to be strident, nagging, bossy, likely to put the electorate’s teeth on edge. And so onto the stage — powerless, apolitical, gussied up in frocks to match their husband’s ties — have tottered, in unsuitable heels, the leaders’ wives.
And no, being Scottish doesn't make Gordon Brown a northerner; it makes him a usurper. I hope to goodness that once the Tories get in they clear out some of the Scots and get back to normal.