Straw stumped by Homer as Latin text controversy hits Blackburn
Monday 29 November 1999
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.
- 1 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway in dense fog
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway in dense fog
George Clooney and Amal fail to get special treatment at New York restaurant
Cindy Crawford 'un-PhotoShopped' viral Marie Claire image was doctored, photographer claims
'A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy': The statement that shocked the world... except India
The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...
£14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Skilled Labouring staff with id...
£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Salary: £16k - £20k Dependant o...
£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A specialist two partner firm o...