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UK's Cameron hit by egg on election trail

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
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David Cameron struck by egg
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Conservative party leader hit by egg while campaigning to become British PM
  • Cameron laughed off incident which came one day after he was followed by a chicken
  • UK voters go to the polls on May 6 in a closely contested election
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London, England (CNN) -- British Conservative party leader David Cameron was hit by an egg thrown by a young man on the campaign trail Wednesday.

He laughed the incident off, saying he now knew which came first, the chicken or the egg. Cameron was followed by a man in a chicken suit a day before, sent by the Daily Mirror newspaper.

"I don't think he got upset about it," said William Littlejohn, a local Conservative party spokesman who was present, but did not see the incident at Cornwall College in Saltash, in southwest England.

"There was quite a lot of sympathy among the students, saying they hope he will come back to Cornwall," Littlejohn said.

A 16-year-old was briefly detained and then was released to his parents, a Devon and Cornwall police spokesman told CNN.

"Most of the egg landed on one of David Cameron's protection officers. The protection officer didn't want to press any charges," said the spokesman, who declined to be named in line with police policy.

The young man "was taken home to his mother. I understand that she wasn't very happy," the spokesman said.

He did not know if the egg-thrower was a student at the college.

British voters go to the polls on May 6. The race between Cameron's Conservatives and Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour party appears too close to call, partly due to a recent surge in support for the Liberal Democrats, a smaller third party.

Flying eggs, custard, paint and ink have long been an occupational hazard of a political career in Britain.

A former deputy prime minister, John Prescott of the Labour party, famously threw a punch at an egg-throwing assailant on the campaign trail in 2001. Police had to separate the two.

Prescott was also doused with a jug of water at the 1998 British Music Awards by singer Danbert Nobacon, a member of the anarchist pop collective Chumbawamba.

An environmental campaigner hit British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson with green custard in March 2009.

The protester, aligned with the anti-airport-expansion group Plane Stupid, hurled the gunk concealed within a coffee cup straight into the minister's face as he stepped out of his ministerial car.

"Thankfully, it wasn't paint and I've come through it intact," Mandelson said afterwards.

In recent years, British politicians have lived in fear of Fathers 4 Justice, the group behind a series of high-profile stunts to raise awareness about the issues faced by fathers separated from their children after family breakups.

In 2004, the group successfully targeted Tony Blair, hitting the then-prime minister with condoms filled with purple flour as he spoke in the House of Commons.

In 2006 a Fathers 4 Justice protester smashed an egg on the back of then-Education Secretary Ruth Kelly's head

The attack came as she left a court where she had been giving evidence against another protester on trial for a previous attempt to handcuff himself to her.

"This is just one of those things that comes with being a politician," Kelly remarked.

Eggs have long been the weapon of choice for political assailants. In 1970, Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson was hit in the face by one. Buffeted by economic troubles, he responded by remarking that at least the cost of living wasn't too high if people could still afford to throw eggs.

Wilson's Conservative successor as prime minister, Edward Heath, also recalled in his memoirs how someone had stubbed a cigarette out on the back of his neck amid election night celebrations. "In those days, security was not as good as today," Heath said of the incident.

Two years later, a female protester threw a pot of ink in Heath's face and all over his suit as he made his way to a signing ceremony to mark the United Kingdom's accession into the European Economic Community (later the European Union).

Historian Dominic Sandbrook told CNN that the British preference for dousing its elected leaders in viscous substances suggests a healthy skepticism not always to be found in U.S. politics.

"Not only does it show that we don't take our politics too seriously, it also suggests a healthily irreverent attitude to politicians themselves -- a far cry from the obsequious awe in which some of our cousins hold their political leaders," Sandbrook told CNN.

CNN's Simon Hooper contributed to this report.