For Poles in Britain, 'bigot' rebuff to Gillian Duffy's immigrants anxiety strikes a raw nerve


What's the fuss about a politician letting off steam, they ask, but acknowledge that prejudice against white newcomers is permissable, whereas if they were black it would be called racist



If Gordon Brown or Gillian Duffy were hoping a line had been drawn under their fateful meeting, they would have been gravely disappointed had they visited the Polish social and cultural centre in Hammersmith, west London, today. Twenty-four hours on, there was only one topic being discussed.

Tomas Perek, 52, who came to the UK from Poland in 1980, offered a few crumbs of comfort. "I say do not kill the career of a very strong leader because of one remark; he didn't call her racist," reflected the electrician. "It shows he is human and not a robot. He was just tired and I feel sorry for him. He was just letting off steam." He was equally diplomatic when asked about Duffy's words. "People are very kind to us here," he said. "Maybe in other parts of England there are problems."

Another Pole, who did not wish to be named, said although Brown had been wrong to dismiss Duffy as a bigot – "she was just concerned about her children and grandchildren" – some English people had no qualms about airing their anti-eastern European prejudices. "People are allowed to say very bad things about us because we're white," he said. "If you said the same thing about blacks, you would be called a racist."

On the streets and in the Polish shops of Hammersmith – which has been home to three generations of Polish immigrants, despite admitting much of their community was talking about what had happened between Brown and Duffy, there was a reluctance to voice an opinion for fear of being labelled meddlers or troublemakers. Some agreed it was becoming increasingly acceptable for Britons to use the kind of racist and inflammatory language about eastern Europeans that they would never direct at black, Asian or Middle Eastern people. Others, meanwhile, were sick of being used as whipping boys for fears over immigration.

But Artur Lozinski, 83, who came to the UK in 1947, was philosophical. A lot of people, the retired chartered engineer said, were getting worked up over an unguarded, exhausted moment and an unfortunate choice of words. "The word bigot can be interpreted in several different ways, can't it?" he said. "What is the Oxford English Dictionary definition? I don't know if she is prejudiced against Eeastern European people; it's difficult to judge. I think she was obviously concerned about jobs, but that's not bigoted is it?"It was, he suggested, time to leave the events in Rochdale behind. "On the spur of the moment, in the heat of the election, he may have said [bigot] inadvertently," said Lozinski. "But the reaction of his opponents has been very gentlemanly. They've said it is just one of those things that happens, and he's been forgiven by the lady, so let's move on."

air : nadawać na antenie (radia, telewizji), obwieszczać publicznie

bigot : bigot, świętoszek; fanatyk

bigoted : nietolerancyjny, zajadły

crumbs of : odrobina

dismiss : zwalniać, odprawiać

equally : równie, tak samo

inadvertently : nieumyślnie

inflammatory : podżegający

let off steam : spuszczać parę, odparowywać

meddler : człowiek wścibski; nieproszony gość

on the spur of the moment : nieplanowany, spontaniczny

permissable : dopuszczalny

qualms : skrupuły

reluctance : niechęć, opór

whipping boy : chłopiec do bicia

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