The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown was this week in a town named Rochdale. Rochdale is in the north of England and has a population of slightly over 200,000 people. It would usually make a comfortable political visit because it has a high labour majority. A Mrs Duffy who had gone out to buy a loaf of bread happened to walk into Gordon Brown’s entourage. The Prime Minister had been visiting a community re-offender project in Rochdale. As part of the new “real voters” strategy, she was ushered by an aide to speak directly to the Prime Minister.
It was then, Mrs Duffy had put questions forward about her concerns on the national debt, taxes paid by pensions and university tuition fees and Eastern Europeans heading for Britain. Gordon Brown smiled as he responded to her questions. He also said she ‘was a good woman’. He made eye contact and appeared understanding. Mrs Duffy was a life-long supporter and voter of Labour. She had been pleased with the meeting and was pleased she was able to speak her mind as a labour voter. If matters had ended there it would have been an uneventful and non-newsworthy event.
Mr Brown however took it differently. It was in the privacy of his car when he said the meeting was a ‘disaster’ and demanded to know whose idea it was. He also called the woman a ‘bigot’. Unfortunately for him, the microphone was still clipped to his lapel and was in reach of sound reception. As ‘The Independent’ stated in their newspaper dated the 29th of April; ‘The verdict is that it went quite well. But by thinking it was a disaster, Mr Brown converted it into a catastrophe’
Mr Brown had misread the situation and had assumed it was a disaster. There is a form of thinking called ‘catastrophic thinking’ in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. This is a very common form of negative and pessimistic thinking. Such thinking can often transform situations themselves into negative outcomes. This is one such very public example of catastrophic thinking. If we can work with our thoughts we can make sure another Mrs Duffy effect does not occur in our own lives. Something so easy to do in times of stress.
As an addendum, the newspaper was itself wallowing in catastrophisation too. At the end of the article it states ‘ It is unfortunate for Gordon Brown that this is what will be remembered when everything else that he has said in the campaign has been forgotten‘
I would ask; How does the writer know? How is the newspaper sure?