Election '97: PM fails to get the yolk as Labour turn rowdy

Colin Brown sees the first - and last - egg of the campaign thrown
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The Independent Online
John Major was mobbed in the final hours of the campaign yesterday by supporters of Barbara Follett, the Labour style guru. The scuffles were the last thing Tory image-makers would have wanted on the evening news before polling day.

Mr Major seized the opportunity to have a final go at the Labour campaign managers, whom he had accused of carrying out a "great marketing scam" on the electorate. "This is old Labour. If they had known our schedule they would have done it every day, everywhere. These are Labour activists. They don't agree with Labour policy. This is real Labour. It is very good people can see it. I just wish they had seen it a little bit earlier. This isn't the sweet smiling faces of Labour ... This is the real Labour Party."

An aide said Mr Major described it as the "nastiest" behaviour encountered in the campaign. "It was not just ...heckling. There were some ... pushing and it was very aggressive. We have some aggressive heckling at times from the Socialist Workers Party and the Referendum Party but this is the worst behaviour and it came from people holding up authorised New Labour posters."

Mr Major was never in real danger, surrounded by detectives and camera crews, but an egg was thrown - the first of the campaign. It landed on the Prime Minister's bomb-proof Daimler, into which Norma Major had been taken for her safety by her detective.

Some Labour supporters booed and chanted "one more day". A few jostled Conservative supporters, who held up protective placards and a ragged blue banner. Ken Follett, the author and husband of the Labour candidate, watched from the safety of the pavement as the melee took place around the trolleys of a supermarket.

Mr Follett, carrying sandwich boards with his wife's photograph, said: "I think he is just going through the motions. Our canvassing figures are so good we don't believe them." He looked bemused by Mr Major's old- style campaigning techniques. "I wonder what the point is. The Tories are terribly angry. Have you noticed they say nasty things and they are popping our balloons with cigarettes?"

Mrs Follett was a few hundred yards away in the town centre, where Labour supporters, tipped off about Mr Major's visit, had been planning a boisterous welcome. Her husband said: "It would not have been very dignified for her to be here." Sheila Gunn, the Prime Minister's press secretary, said: "The Prime Minister doesn't believe there are any no-go areas in the entire UK. He expects the right to be heard in a democracy to put his point over, even with people who disagree with him. These people didn't want to hear his arguments. It shows the Prime Minister is prepared to go anywhere to take his message to the country, whatever the behaviour of Labour's supporters."

Earlier, the campaign appeared to be drifting towards a quiet ending as Mr Majordecided to highlight his commitment to sport.

After travelling more than 10,000 miles to attack Labour, his visit to an exhibition next door to Wembley Stadium to see the FA Cup seemed an extraordinarily low-key way to end the campaign. Mrs Major, who has done her best to look interested, no matter how dull the photo-opportunities in various places across the country, found it hard sustaining her smile to the very end.

The Major posed with the FA Cup and photographers shouted: "Put it on your head Mr Major." But he resisted the temptation. At that moment, the words of David Coleman came to mind: "They think it's all over ..." Stevenage showed that Mr Major will go on kicking until the final whistle at 10pm tonight.

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