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THE WORLD

Campaign Swing Packs a Wallop

Britain: Blair's No. 2 connects with jaw of heckler who threw egg. Most reaction is positive.

May 18, 2001|From Times Wire Services

LONDON — Candidates in the national election campaign routinely talk of fighting for Britain's people, but one politician took the battle directly to a voter's jaw.

John Prescott, the No. 2 figure in Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, was walking past a noisy and hostile crowd on the hustings in Wales on Wednesday when one of the hecklers threw an egg at point-blank range, splattering the deputy prime minister's head.

Known as "the Bulldog" during his years as a labor organizer, Prescott, 62, lashed out instantly with a powerful left to the egg-thrower's jaw. The heckler then charged the politician, and the two went down together as police and bystanders worked to separate them.

Prescott said Thursday that he "regrets" the incident. There were no regrets, though, in the British media, which have been struggling to breathe life into a national election that seems headed inexorably toward a landslide reelection victory for Blair's Labor Party. Video of the Prescott punch was shown over and over on television here, and the radio "chat" shows had no other topic to discuss.

For the most part, the people calling and e-mailing broadcast outlets backed Prescott, saying that his reaction was an understandable response to a raw egg in the ear. Even opposition politicians went easy. "The guy should not have thrown the egg, and the deputy prime minister should not have lost his cool," said Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. "But now the matter is closed."

William Hague, leader of the opposition Conservatives, had a deadpan reply when asked how he would respond if an egg was thrown at him: "It is not my policy to hit voters during an election," he replied.

At Labor Party headquarters, staffers said, a long night of strategizing produced the conclusion that Blair and his staff should laugh off the incident. "John is John," Blair told the press with a smile. Prescott was back on the campaign trail Thursday in Scotland. British campaigns last less than a month, so the leaders of every party will be politicking daily until election day, June 7.

Prescott's attacker, 29-year-old Craig Evans, was released on bail after being questioned by police. North Wales police said their investigation was continuing. Evans declined to talk to reporters Thursday, leaving his defense to his boss, Rikki Proffitt, master of the hunt for the Flint and Denbigh Hunt riding club.

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