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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Blair apology to heckler: Your views
Walter Wolfgang
What does the ejection of the heckler say about the Labour Party?

Tony Blair has apologised to an 82-year-old party member who was thrown out of the party's annual conference for heckling foreign secretary Jack Straw.

Walter Wolfgang was led out by stewards after shouting "nonsense" during Mr Straw's speech defending Iraq policy.

The Prime Minister told BBC Breakfast: "I am really sorry about it, it shouldn't have happened."

Is heckling a sign of a healthy democracy? How should the Labour Party have dealt with the situation?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

This topic was suggested by Dan Tanzey, England
What does the ejection of an 82-year-old heckler say about the Labour Party?

I think it is fair to say that what caused Mr Wolfgang to heckle was not rudeness as some have suggested but because he is a man of good reason and found the usual New Labour spin far too frustrating and pointless to sit and listen to.
Louise, London

More than fifty years ago I used to "heckle" at far more robust political meetings than party conferences. The objective was to get thrown out. The most reliable meetings for success were the Communists. Heckling is not debate, it is interruption and disruptive. Nevertheless to manhandle a man of 82 is not on. I was only 20 and enjoyed it.
Bill White, Croydon, UK

What concerned me the most was the use of anti-terror legislation to stop him returning to the conference initially. This is a worrying sign that the legislation will be used to achieve totally illegitimate ends, such as freedom of speech which has no hint of incitement. This aspect can be blamed solely on the government and not on the stewards, whose rough treatment of an 82-year-old was appalling.
Stephen Porter, UK

This is simply media hype of the worst kind. A complete non-story. A rude man thrown out for shouting during speeches he doesn't agree with is not news. Certainly it doesn't warrant being the top news story on the BBC or giving this man a platform to air his views on national TV.
Robina McKay, London

He only apologised because it was a PR disaster
Patrick, Honiton, UK
Blair's apology is meaningless. He only apologised because it was a PR disaster. Why has he not apologised to the younger man who was bundled out of the hall for the "crime" of trying to protect an elderly gentleman.
Patrick, Honiton, UK

I can't wait to see the leader of the opposition being removed from the bench when he heckles Blair after Parliament resumes.
Jon Chiles, Stockport

The aspect that I find most unbelievable in this whole sorry story is that only one person stood up for Mr Wolfgang, and then he was forcibly ejected also. Whatever happened to respect for elders, let alone free speech and the right to disagree with government policies. Very worrying indeed.
Amy, Manchester

Does this mean that MPs sitting on the opposition benches who shout "nonsense" in Parliament are also going to be thrown out?
Will Morley-Brown, Coventry, UK

Use of anti-terror laws threatened against potential petrol strikers. Anti-terror laws used against political dissenters. It is obvious the government backs the use of these laws against anyone they don't like. The laws need repealing now, before we become a police state.
T Jones, Wrexham

I don't see the point. Heckling is very annoying. It is not the right way to object or accept a point. The Prime Minister's apology could lead to subsequent poor comportment in the House of Commons - a great advocate of democracy.
Barah Nicoline Yinyuy, Bamenda, Cameroon

Why did Jack Straw, who could see it unfolding in front of his eyes, not stop it?
Amit Roy, London
Why did Jack Straw, who could see it unfolding in front of his eyes, not stop it? Either he didn't see anything wrong in it or he is not used to standing up against wrong.
Amit Roy, London

The "mistake" for New Labour and the police was for all this to be caught on camera. If it hadn't been, would there have been such a rush to say sorry? Or would he still be in jail for up to however many days it is the Home Secretary now wants to be able to detain people under the new Terrorism Act.
Bob, Dorset

Maybe there's a right time and place to heckle. If he doesn't agree with his party's policies then maybe he should think about joining another party.
Chris, Birmingham, UK

It must have felt for the 82-year-old chap quite frightening, and to imagine that he may well have experienced the same thing during his young years as a citizen in Nazi Germany. Has this not proven at long last the type of society we are living in and what remains for the future?
NH, Aberdeen, UK

Shouting 'nonsense, nonsense' while someone is trying to address a conference is not free speech, nor intelligent debate. It is just plain rude. What about the speaker's right to an uninterrupted hearing?
H. Walker, London

George Orwell seems to have got it right
T. Kasafir, Birmingham, UK
Since when has heckling been a crime? It has been a part of British politics all my life. To see an elderly man manhandled out of the conference, for doing what people have always done to politicians, is a horrifying 'big brother is watching you' scenario. George Orwell seems to have got it right.
T. Kasafir, Birmingham, UK

If this is the way the government is going to use anti-terror legislation then there aught to be significant judicial oversight of those who enforce these laws and disciplinary proceedings for obvious misuse.
Iain Lippitt, Scotland

Holding an elderly gentleman under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for exercising free speech is now being called a 'mistake'. Nevertheless, the message is now out there - this could happen to you too if you express dissent. Why haven't we heard from the individual who gave the order? Where exactly do we stand? I applaud the media for making such a big issue out of this, long may they continue to do so.

I am Lithuania and under Soviet occupation speaking out like Mr Wolfgang did would've landed a person in the gulag in Siberia. Now we can speak our minds and as I am concerned that is what he did - voice his opinion.
Petr Goesinya, Lithuania

The key issue here is that laws promoted as defending us from murderous fanatics are already being used to suppress anti-Government opinion. To look at this issue as being about anything else - the quality of stewarding, the rights and wrongs of heckling etc - is to dangerously miss the point.
Chandra, England

I believe the phrase was 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'. It's shame that the 'crime' turned out to be speaking out, and the 'cause', an 82-year-old, fed up with being lied to. Interestingly, one wonders whether the 'heavies' will face charges for criminally assaulting the old man. Still, going by some of the comments on here, the death of free speech will not be either mourned or missed. So, let's carry on with Blair's illegal war. Astonishing.
Paul, UK

A man whose generation fought for freedom of speech, has to fight for it still, by law he should not have been treated in this manor!
Karl Harris, Wolverhampton

The criticism of the stewards themselves rather misses the point. If they were acting on instructions these must have been given by the party and the leader, Mr Blair, is responsible for them. If they were not then the speaker, Mr Straw, should have told them to stop. Either way the Labour Party was clearly content to eject a harmless old man for shouting a few comments that they found painful. Not a pretty sight for a government that is seeking ever greater powers over all of us.
Alan Lodge, Coventry

At this rate New Labour will simply abolish all other "dissenting" political parties, arrest those disagreeing for anti-state activities, and run the country for the benefit of the governing elite, much like East Germany, for example. Still glad you voted Labour?
James, London, UK

It was totally right for Wolfgang to be ejected. He is typical of the old lefty image New Labour want to get rid of. He has no place in a modern party like ours and I only wish the stewards had chucked out the rest of them. Better still, we should send them off to Iraq to see how they would solve the situation.
Jeff Graves, Bromley, England

The day that open debate is considered to be the act of a "terrorist" is a sad day for us all
Laurence Anderson, Edinburgh, Scotland
Mr Blair's time would be better spent re-establishing democracy and free speech in the UK instead of Iraq. The day that open debate is considered to be the act of a "terrorist" is a sad day for us all.
Laurence Anderson, Edinburgh, Scotland

He brought rough treatment upon himself by refusing to leave. If I'd been sitting by him I'd have wanted him to be removed as I would have liked to have heard the speech. Heckling is not debate, it is not free speech and at a televised conference I would consider it self-centred attention seeking, especially refusing to leave when asked knowing full well forcible removal would cause a scene. Mr Wolfgang can air his views in hundreds of ways, his free speech is well protected in the UK.
Kevin, West Midlands

It is OK for MPs in parliament to heckle and cat-call their opponents during debates but not, it seems, for ministers and MPs to be heckled during speeches at stage managed conferences. The hypocrisy of these politicians is plain to see. They want their audience to behave like tame sheep applauding every statement, now where have we seen that before?
Richard Maunders, Devon

For the first time I felt a little frightened about the way our politics is going. There is more than a hint of the Orwellian vision creeping into this country.

I thought we were meant to be living in a democracy
KP, England
So Mr Wolfgang is now considered to be a "terrorist" for speaking out against the government. I thought we were meant to be living in a democracy. Is it now going to be considered an act of terrorism to vote for the opposition?
KP, England

I think the appalling treatment of Mr Wolfgang, and what it represents in terms of a supposedly democratic party, summarises the reasons why I - and many other long-term Labour supporters - no can longer vote Labour and are effectively now disenfranchised.
Jim Atherton, Wigan, UK

This shows the ultimate control the Labour Party have over dissenting voices. They have done this to their MPs, is it any surprise they do it to their loyal supporters?
Oliver, England

Real heckling happens at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park. Shouting words like 'nonsense' is simple conjecture no worse than you would find at a meeting of the local Parish Council. Democracy lives on the fact that a point of view can be challenged by anyone, one person, one vote and we are all equal. Yet, this episode shows some are more equal than others. Even more depressing is that the stewards must have been given their orders to behave so.
Mike, London, UK

No, it wasn't a "mistake". The action taken against this man and his defender were the direct result of an authoritarian attitude that began with forbidding the sale of beef on the bone, and grew to new heights with imprisonment of pensioners for non-payment of small bills, and restraint of free speech through the terrorism act. Mealy mouthed apologies are not enough to right these wrongs.
Robert, Minster UK

Political leaders used to pride themselves on being able to deal with hecklers
Ann Godden, Hull, UK
Political leaders used to pride themselves on being able to deal with hecklers. It meant they could think on their feet without being tied to a script; and it meant they could deal with dissent with wit and good temper. Mr Wolfgang is to be congratulated on showing up the vacuity of this government.
Ann Godden, Hull, UK

Mr Wolfgang might not have felt that he had to heckle in the first place, if Labour had not refused to debate the war in Iraq, undoubtedly an important subject of current concern, at its conference.
John, Hemel Hempstead, UK

Anti-terrorist legislation was rushed in on the back of massive public support. A majority of people are in favour of ID cards. After the London bombings, a majority thought the government had been too lenient on 'Preachers of Hate'. Attacks on liberty are popular (and therefore democratic). Unless people realize what they are advocating, the mistreatment of Walter Wolfgang will seem like small fry.
Mike H, London, U.K.

Surely the incident should be blamed more on bad stewarding than on the Labour Party.
Jonathan, St Albans, Herts

The point here is that though heckling is awkward, there is no point in an audience if they can't express themselves. This action explains all that is wrong with this government and why we shouldn't trust their anti-terror agenda.
Alex, London, UK

It would have been much less serious if they had not applied the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The latter has exposed precisely, albeit unwittingly, how the act could be implemented to suppress dissidents.
Dmitri, London

Whilst I am appalled at the treatment of this man, in my view it is a good thing that this misuse of terror laws happened before the forthcoming debate on strengthening them further. I am sure that there will now be a much more robust debate on the issue and I hope that if any new laws are required, these will be better as a result.
Jim, Leeds, UK

Timely evidence of laws passed for one reason being abused for another. What more of a warning does one need?
Peter Walker, High Wycombe, UK

Mr Wolfgang's age is entirely a red herring to the real debate about the rights of free speech
Michael Perman, London, UK
While heckling during a speech is pretty rude behaviour the response by stewards at the party conference was wholly disproportionate to the offence and reflective of the authoritarian attitude prevalent at the top of the Labour Party. Mr Wolfgang's age is entirely a red herring to the real debate about the rights of free speech. The stewards were taking their lead from the example set at the top, whatever Mr Blair says.
Michael Perman, London, UK

I think it's absolutely right that troublemakers are chucked out of the conference. We need to stop worrying about the old guard and push through the agenda of reform that Britain needs.
Alastair, London

It is unbelievable how easy it is for the media (certain newspapers) to influence public opinion. I agree that the way Mr Wolfgang was ejected was disgraceful but also entirely down to the individuals who removed the gentleman. To say these actions are indicative of the Labour Party's policy on terrorism is ridiculous and entirely media created.
Gavin, Bournemouth, England

I am extremely grateful to Mr Wolfgang. If it were not for him the full extent of how dangerous and insidious the Terrorism Act is would not have been so publicly revealed. There needs to be a full inquiry into the application of this Act, and amendments need to be made to prevent this kind of blatant abuse.
Jeff, Eastbourne, E Sussex

Of course it should not have happened and a full apology has been given but if someone has something to say, they should ask to speak, which delegates are entitled to do, and give their viewpoint from the stage. There is nothing more annoying at any meeting, than people at the back, heckling and shouting. If you have something to say, get up and say it.
Jon Sockett, Ormskirk, UK

Would there have been such a clamour to apologise if the protester had not been an older man?
Liam Fitzgerald, Gosport, Hampshire
Would there have been such a clamour to apologise if the protester had not been an older man?. The Labour leadership is thinking about publicity again instead of addressing the issue of why they were being heckled. I find it worrying that if this is the reaction to a long standing Labour party member, what would the reaction be to a normal member of the public who has a grievance.
Liam Fitzgerald, Gosport, Hampshire

All of a sudden, the Tory leader election becomes more relevant. New Labour have made many gradual changes that separately amount to not much but this episode represents the sum of the whole - and its a whole lot more threatening than sleaze!
Tony, Cardiff

This suggests that the Terrorism Act can be invoked against anyone who disagrees with the authorities, and as such is very worrying. Ironic that someone who escaped Nazi Germany is a victim. Whatever will it be used for next? Whoever authorised the arrest clearly does not have the judgement necessary to do the job and should be sacked.
Jill, London

Seriously, this is a non-story. Ok, so a chap makes a nuisance of himself and some stewards overreact and handle the situation badly. Big deal, individuals make mistakes all the time. This is not an indication of the state of the Labour Party or of our democracy, and the only people who interpret it as such are those who already have an agenda of their own and are seizing on this to further their own ends. To my mind the media who sensationalise the trivia whilst failing to take a balanced and considered approach to the really important issues are the true threat to our democracy.
Rob, Bath

I cannot believe that an 82 year old gentleman has been roughly set upon by security staff and arrested under the terrorism act for simply disagreeing with the content of a speech. Why is it this government, and those organisations that operate in their name, seem to fervently punish those that pose no threat, or those who cannot evade or resist?
Andrew H, London, UK

As a life long Labour supporter I am appalled at the response of Labour Party officials to the treatment of Walter Wolfgang. In essence they can't see the wood for the trees. There is no excuse for this type of behaviour and causes grave concern for the future of free speech in the country.
Martin, UK

I scorned those who expressed worry over the anti-terrorism laws. I apologise, because I was obviously very wrong!
Silvia, Devizes Wiltshire

I can't believe what I'm reading. Yes, this is a form of democracy and, yes, we have freedom of speech, but what about law and order? Heckling in such a way during a speech (As opposed to a debate in somewhere such as the House of Commons) is just infantile and rude. Protesting is acceptable but only in an appropriate and civilized fashion!
Ben Brown, Chester-le-street, UK

Yet more proof, if needed, of this government's determination to clamp down on freedom of speech. First it was the ban on demonstrations within a mile of Parliament, now this. It's also very worrying that the police see the use of anti-terrorism laws as an excuse to restrain the most innocuous of citizens.
Paul Bramley, London UK

Mr Wolfgang has unwittingly exposed the ugly side of New Labour's control freaks. What chance does anyone in this country have if we continue to have a party, voted into power by a minority of the population, that allows no dissent from its own members?
Fiona, Insch, Scotland

If party members can't make their thoughts heard, what chance do the ordinary public have?
Bob Armour, West Sussex
Mr Blair has blamed the stewards for their behaviour - what a cop out! How many high ranking ministers stood by and let it happen. Surely Mr Straw, as foreign secretary should have had the authority to stop the thugs from carrying out this despicable behaviour. This does, of course, assume that he had any sympathy for Mr Wolfgang. If party members can't make their thoughts heard, what chance do the ordinary public have?
Bob Armour, West Sussex

Oh the irony: Jack Straw singing the praises of our bringing democracy to Iraq followed quickly by a clear illustration of fascism. A picture is worth 1000 words and this one showed loud and clear the hidden agenda behind the Anti-terrorism Act.
Maureen, London, UK

The curtain has been briefly pulled aside and we've been gifted an insight into the kind of world we'll be living in once ID cards are introduced. No need to worry if you haven't got anything to hide? Clearly there's everything to worry about from a government that's unbelievably sensitive about dissent.
Guy Matthews, UK

This whole episode is a wake-up call. I for one have been shaken out of my complacency and now realise that my personal freedom is in jeopardy, not because of terrorists, but because of overzealous law makers.
Ian Davies, Lichfield, Staff

Is Mr Blair sorry an 82-year-old was manhandled or sorry that anyone was ejected for daring to disagree with his policies? Unfortunately only the former I think.
Eja, Chester, England

Now he has a superb platform from which to air his views
Mike Wagstaff, Rotherham, UK
Let's not get hysterical over this. Security guards were over-zealous and this left Tony Blair with egg on his face. Mr Wolfgang has received an apology and now he has a superb platform from which to air his views. From where I'm sitting that looks like freedom of speech.
Mike Wagstaff, Rotherham, UK

I think this is outrageous behaviour. Firstly it shows what low regard the Labour Party has for its members. More seriously, it shows how the Terrorism Act can be seriously abused to attack anyone who criticises the government. There was no terrorism here.
Nick Cotter, Exeter, Devon, UK

If a heckler is detained on terrorism grounds because he disagreed with the government, then they better detain me as well. This is very, very troubling and indicative of what maybe to come. 1984.
Will, London, UK

Tony Blair may have apologised on TV but he said he felt he had no need to meet Mr Wolfgang. In my book, this is not an apology but a PR exercise. Mr Blair, shame on you.
Ian Kennedy, Wellingborough, Northants

I think the fact that the hall was more than half empty says a lot more about New Labour. Even its own members know that listening to Jack Straw speak will be a one-way exercise, and that there is no point raising a dissenting voice. That's why so many members have deserted the party since Blair became leader.
Brian Brown, Bicester, England

If you are not allowed to heckle at a party conference, then what is the point of having one?
Ronnie Williams, Aberdeen, Scotland
If you are not allowed to heckle at a party conference, then what is the point of having one? I thought the point was to give party members an opportunity to voice their opinions and to question the people who work for us. We are the people who pay their wages or have they forgotten this?
Ronnie Williams, Aberdeen, Scotland

You couldn't make this up. An 82-year-old refugee from Nazi Germany forcibly ejected from his party's conference after uttering a single word of dissent. The gratuitous use of anti-terrorism measures surely the icing on a particularly rancid cake. Goebbels would be proud.
Dave, Walsall

If Straw thought that he had a valid point he would have confidently and humorously debated with the heckler. By having the man ejected he admitted that he knew he was talking indefensible rubbish. It reinforces my feeling that our democracy and freedom are being slowly dismantled with the excuse that it is 'for our own safety'.
Mike McCulloch, Exeter, UK

I think this is outrageous behaviour. Firstly it shows what low regard the Labour Party has for its members. More seriously, it shows how the Terrorism Act can be seriously abused to attack anyone who criticises the government. There was no terrorism here.
Nick Cotter, Exeter, Devon, UK

This is a very embarrassing episode for any democratic party. Not only is the heckler a more vulnerable member of society, it proves that even the most tame dissent touches the nerves of a guilty government, who's unpopular decisions will not be absolved by even the most tailored rhetoric. Couple this with the story of the jailed council tax evader, and it is becoming clear that our pensioners are becoming more politicised than our youth.
JC, London, UK

Only persistent disturbance warrants ejection
Michael, Tokyo, Japan/London
One or two shouted remarks in disagreement - in exercise of freedom of expression - ought to be parried with a steely counter-argument, or at least a witty retort. Only persistent disturbance warrants ejection, regardless of the person's age or political affiliation. At which point was Mr Wolfgang ejected?
Michael, Tokyo, Japan/London, England

"Nonsense" and "that's rubbish, that's a lie" - this kind of heckling happens every day on the floor of the House of Commons. What justification is there for heavy handed treatment and, worryingly, detention under the Terrorism Act?
Paul Joyce, Marlow, UK

These are very disturbing pictures. Is it correct that anti-terrorism power was used by the police to hold a frail old man for merely expressing an opinion that happened not to be the one of the government? I am speechless. Where are we going to? How are we going to solve the real problems of terrorism? It is time that Labour backbenchers showed a bit of courage and challenge their leadership. And it is time for the Conservatives to wake up.
M Thompson, Tonbridge, Kent

I can see the reason for removing him, although it was hardly done with any grace or tact, but the truly scary aspect is the use of anti-terrorism laws on him. This demonstrates perfectly and chillingly the anti-terrorism 'function creep'. After all, if the police can arrest someone without giving any reasons and perhaps be allowed to keep them in custody for three months without giving any reasons, why on earth would they ever bother to use any other, more appropriate but also more restrictive, power?
Katherine, London, UK

A televised apology is not sufficient
DJ Walker-Morgan
A televised apology is not sufficient. Blair should personally apologise to Walter Wolfgang, and to the party worker who queried the treatment he was receiving and then received the same treatment.
DJ Walker-Morgan

Another example of the abuse of power by this government. They always seek to avoid issues rather than confront them. Blair's apology is nothing more than a shameful attempt to spin the situation in his favour.
Dave Handley, UK, London

An inauspicious start to Mr Blair's campaign for more respect in society.
John Hart, Gravesend, England

Some official should have stepped in and resolved the issue. Tony Blair should never have needed to apologise to anyone at the conference for having a different opinion unless any violence was carried out. It seems unless Tony Blair is on hand to take charge no one else has the sense to deal with issues at all. All officials that were there yesterday should be ashamed of themselves.
Tom, Scotland

Yes, it was a big, big mistake and there should be a public apology. There is absolutely no point whatsoever in having a conference if all the attendees are in full agreement with the speakers. No point in preaching to the converted. Debate is healthy, maybe one or two MPs would serve their members better if they listened to them instead of talking at (not to) them. I would have more respect for a speaker who could hold his own against hecklers than one who insisted on having them ejected.
Terry, Epsom, Surrey, England

The most worrying thing in this story is that Mr Wolfgang was arrested under the Terrorism Act
Pierre, London
The most worrying thing in this story is that Mr Wolfgang was arrested under the Terrorism Act. This gives an idea of the future powers given to the police. You want to demonstrate in the street against the government? Get arrested for "terrorism".
Pierre, London

What I find more disturbing than Mr Wolfgang being manhandled out of the conference in such an awful manner, is that he was detained under 'anti-terrorism' laws when he tried to re-enter the building.
Cubu Ashiru, UK

I was shocked by what I saw. Many years ago I recall seeing film of Oswald Moseley's Blackshirt rallies, where dissenters were brutally ejected. I never thought I would see such similar scenes at a British Labour Party conference.
John, London

Disgraceful and heavy-handed but, to be fair, it probably says more about over-zealous security guards than the Labour party. The use of anti-terrorism laws to detain Mr Wolfgang afterwards raises far more serious questions.
Griff, Cardiff, Wales

It is very concerning that disagreeing with the government is now deemed to be an act of terrorism.
Richard Underhill, Slough

Insane. People have a right to protest. The best time of which is in the face of a politician or political group. It simply goes to show how this weak government brushes public views under the carpet. They are not open to the full debate on Iraq.
Dave Jones, Birmingham

It is not acceptable for people to heckle
Jon, Manchester
No, it is not acceptable for people to heckle. What happens if 20, 50, 200 people heckle? No one can hear anyone else and those who want to hear the speaker could not hear him. Regardless of age Mr Wolfgang should've remained quiet during the speech then he is free to voice his displeasure.
Jon, Manchester

Throwing him out for a harmless heckle is bad enough - but using the Prevention of Terrorism Act to stop him getting back in is far more alarming. If we say "well done Walter" will we be had up for glorifying terrorism? Good grief - we really are on the slippery slope. The last possibility of me ever voting for this Labour Party went out the door with Mr Wolfgang.
Frank, Bristol, UK

Blair apology to ejected heckler
29 Sep 05 |  UK Politics


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