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Fight brings UK election to life

The altercation finally sparked media interest in the election campaign
The altercation finally sparked media interest in the election campaign  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain's general election campaign has come alive after Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was involved in a scuffle with a protester.

The front pages of Thursday's national newspapers all featured the moment when Prescott punched a man who threw an egg at him as he arrived for a party rally in north Wales.

Prescott was then wrestled onto a wall before being freed by party officials in the town of Rhyl. A man was later arrested.

A series of other confrontations between politicians and voters upset what until then had been criticised as a carefully stage-managed campaign by Labour, prompting newspaper commentators to sharpen their knives.

Prime Minister Tony Blair was confronted in Birmingham by the angry partner of a cancer patient who accused Labour of failing the National Health Service.

Many newspapers criticised Prescott and said the protesters had highlighted issues that Labour was keen to avoid.

The Sun tabloid wrote in its opinion section that it could not condone attacks on minister, but added: "We also cannot defend him hitting members of the public. This is a democracy not a yobbo state."

The traditionally right-wing Daily Mail said many of the protesters spoke for the nation. The paper's comment section said: "This paper deplores violence of any kind, but such scenes are a telling indication of the deep anger felt about remote, arrogant politicians and their mendacious, manipulative spin doctors."

The Daily Telegraph predicted that Prescott would have a less high-profile role after the election if Labour won, as opinion polls predict. "It (the scuffle) is not behaviour expected of a deputy prime minister -- certainly not on the day that Tony Blair launched his party manifesto.

"Labour will be watching anxiously the press and public reaction. But Mr Blair will be horrified that such a display of anger will have dominated the news bulletins and wrecked the coverage of the party's manifesto launch."

Prescott defended his actions after the incident in Wales. In a statement afterwards, he said: "I got off my bus into an already hostile crowd. I walked through all the jostling and I was attacked by an individual. In the melee that followed I clearly defended myself.

"I believe that someone is now being questioned by the police, and it would be quite improper and quite wrong to add any further comment," he said.

Prescott on the campaign trail earlier in the week  

The incident prompted calls from the opposition Tories for the deputy prime minister to resign.

Brendan Murphy, Conservative candidate for the Vale of Clwyd, said: "If politicians can't put up with things like that they shouldn't be in the job."

Other leading politicians were on the rough end of public opinion on Wednesday amid campaigning for the June 7 general election.

Home Secretary Jack Straw met a similarly hostile reception when police officers jeered and slow clapped as he addressed the Police Federation Annual Conference in Blackpool.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson, who was forced to resign earlier this year over his alleged links to a controversial Indian businessman, also stormed off a television programme when asked about his view of Chancellor Gordon Brown's handling of the election campaign.

Opposition Conservative leader William Hague was also heckled as he campaigned in Wolverhampton, central England. Surrounded by a hostile crowd Hague and his wife cut short a walkabout

The incidents were in stark contrast to the campaign's first week of carefully managed press conferences and walkabouts.

Blair's Labour Party won power in a 1997 landslide and early opinion polls show him heavily favoured to take this election too.

• Labour Party
• Conservative Party
• Liberal Democrats

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