[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 13 October 2006, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Straw met by applause - and boos
BBC North of England correspondent Mark Simpson
By Mark Simpson
BBC North of England correspondent

Jack Straw
Mr Straw's constituency includes many Muslim residents

It is just as well Jack Straw did not hear the shouts from the crowd as his security men shepherded him out of Blackburn town hall.

About 100 people had gathered to catch a first glimpse of their local MP since his controversial comments about Muslim women taking off their veils.

"Well done, Jack. If they don't like it, they should go home," shouted one middle-aged woman.

It is this type of racist outburst that Mr Straw says he is trying to stop.

But it seems some non-Muslims have twisted his comments to support their "us and them" prejudices.

"Don't run away, Jack, come back and talk about it," yelled a man as the MP climbed into his bullet-proof Jaguar.

Jack Straw has insulted Islam and Muslims and he has no right to do so
Moulana Hanif from the Blackburn Mosques Forum

He did not stop to talk, his car quickly drove off.

One man who was unhappy was Moulana Hanif from the Blackburn Mosques Forum.

He said: "Jack Straw has insulted Islam and Muslims and he has no right to do so.

"People are disgusted and insulted. We demand a full public apology."

Earlier, Mr Straw spent 20 minutes talking to the media, after meetings with local Muslim councillors and clerics.

His comments afterwards can be paraphrased in four words: "I'm not backing down".

A Muslim woman wearing a veil
The Koran tells men and women to dress modestly

No apology, no climb-down, no U-turn. In fairness to him, on this occasion, "sorry" was not the hardest word, but perhaps the easiest.

Mindful that a third of his constituents are Muslim, he could easily have fudged the issue and used the old trick of blaming journalists for quoting him out of context.

Instead, Mr Straw fronted up, repeated his views and accepted the consequences.

For him, the furore has echoes of the fuss 12 years ago when he raised the explosive issue of the Labour Party scrapping Clause Four.

He helped win that argument - but will he win the debate over the veil?

Final verdict

Well, many more people clapped than booed when he left Blackburn town hall.

Readings from "clapometers" should always be treated with a degree of caution, but it looks like Mr Straw has impressed more people than he has alienated.

The final verdict will come at the next election.

Who knows, by then, he could be the deputy leader of the Labour Party.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific