Page last updated at 16:24 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 17:24 UK

The public encounters politicians might prefer to forget

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The moment an egg was thrown at David Cameron

By Margaret Ryan
BBC News

As David Cameron wiped off the egg thrown at him by a student, he could comfort himself with the thought that he is not the first politician to learn the hard way that getting out to meet the electorate does not always go to plan.

Up until now in this election campaign, the worst Mr Cameron has encountered on his walkabouts has been a Mirror journalist dressed as a chicken, who pursued him for several days.

On Wednesday when his pristine white shirt was stained by an egg thrown by a student at a college in Cornwall, he joked: "Now I know which came first - the chicken not the egg."

But not all politicians have been able to see the funny side when confronted by a less than friendly member of the public.

Prescott punch

John Prescott scuffles with protester in 2001
John Prescott's response to egg-throwing became infamous

Few will forget how John Prescott turned on a farm worker and punched him on the chin after he threw an egg at the then deputy prime minister during a visit to north Wales during the 2001 election campaign.

"John is John," shrugged Tony Blair the following day, after pictures of Mr Prescott scuffling with the bystander had been broadcast around the world.

The protester, Craig Evans, said after the event he had been protesting about the lack of government support for farmers and farm workers suffering the effects of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Mr Prescott insisted he was acting in self-defence after being hit in the head with the egg.

Other politicians have preferred to respond with putdowns rather than left jabs.

In 1970 when the then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson was pelted with eggs by a Conservative supporter angry over the cancellation of the South African Springboks cricket tour, he replied the cost of living could not be as high as the Tories were suggesting if people could afford to throw raw eggs.

"If the Tories get in, in five years no-one will be able to afford to buy an egg," he said.

Heckle over school places

Gordon Brown has not been immune from hecklers during the current election campaign. Early on in the campaign he was confronted by a parent angry over school places in south London.

Ben Butterworth challenged the prime minister over why there was not a state school place for his eldest son.

Brown heckled over school places

But Mr Brown did not stop to speak to the protester, saying afterwards he was "happy" to answer questions at public meetings but was on his way to another engagement.

In contrast when his predecessor was confronted during the 2001 campaign by a woman angry over the cancer care her husband was receiving, he adopted a different approach.

Tony Blair stopped to talk to Sharon Storer after she berated him outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

Her attack on his record on providing more nurses and more hospital beds overshadowed Labour's manifesto launch.

Her angry outburst not only enlivened the election campaign but proved a member of the public could help put an issue firmly on the political agenda.

Sharon Storer challenges Tony Blair in 2001 election
Sharon Storer confronted Mr Blair over his record on the NHS

Mr Blair did seem somewhat thrown by the confrontation saying: "They're going to do better, they're trying."

It is not just eggs that politicians have had thrown at them as they go about their business.

Robert Kilroy-Silk, then an MEP, had a bucket of manure poured over his suit, shirt and silk tie as he arrived for a radio interview in Manchester in 2004.

His attacker said he had been offended by comments made in a column by Mr Kilroy-Silk about Muslims. Mr Kilroy-Silk responded by wiping some of the manure over the man who had thrown it.

Some politicians may be seen to be more ready than others to offer comebacks to their hecklers. In the closing days of the 1974 general election campaign, Tory MP Enoch Powell encouraged his supporters to vote Labour and so have a choice to withdraw from the Common Market in a planned referendum.

To a heckler who dubbed him "Judas" he replied: "Judas was paid."

John Major was credited with dealing with hecklers well when he stood on his soapbox to shout above a Luton crowd during the 1992 general election campaign.

Politicians nowadays may be forgiven for being more comfortable under the glare of TV studio lights than being out on the road.

But what is certain is that wherever they go their every move will be recorded by someone.



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