Straw stumped by Homer as Latin text controversy hits Blackburn

LABOUR PARTY spin-doctors and others of a nervous disposition may wish quietly to abandon Jack Straw's campaign to revive speakers' corners. Judging by the Home Secretary's experience on Saturday in Blackburn, Lancashire, the "political hurly-burly" that Mr Straw believes they will revive might be a little too robust for the spin-doctors' tastes.

Mr Straw addressed his constituents from a public bench outside Marks & Spencer, which has doubled as his town's speakers' corner since 1983, and he said the questioning to which he was subjected proved "as rigorous as any Paxman interview".

Indeed, Newsnight would be unlikely simultaneously to press him on the Greek classics, Spanish diesel prices and Dutch immigration rules. Stephen Blake, one of his first questioners, asked him if he read Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. If so, he would know the concept of "guest friendship", which had not been bestowed upon General Augusto Pinochet. "Proceedings before the courts" prevented him from discussing Homer's angle, Mr Straw replied, although of course he understood it.

But there was no such escape from the next questioner, demanding to know whether Mr Straw really did invest the money in extra police officers he had claimed. Were government statistics "designed to inform or confuse?" and was it not best to be "blunt with the soundbite?" asked Kevin Breslin. "It's different here because I've got time to explain things to people," said Mr Straw. "On television "there's only 15 seconds".

Tips for generating a speakers' corner crowd, Mr Straw later confided, included "finding a tame Tory" to pick an argument with (though a previous attempt at this had ended when a woman hit the Tory over the head with a handbag).

It also seems handy to have family experiences to draw on. Referring to his mother - an infant teacher - had helped him out with a woman who did not want to send her child to school until the age of seven. And mention of his great grandfather - an immigrant German Jew - eased him through a discussion of immigration issues.

But no manner of help prepared him for one woman's assertion that Tony Blair had called public-sector workers "stuck in the mud". Being in their number, she was displeased, so Mr Straw trod deferentially.

"I don't think [Mr Blair] said that but if he did ... I will check it out, and of course I agree with everything the Prime Minister says," he replied with good grace.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most