It is an almost universal rule that when a politician meets an angry member of the public on camera, it is bad news for the politician. But yesterday a ranting protester pulled off the near-impossible feat of making the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley look reasonable.
Passing through the choppy waters of a hostile demonstration as he approached Downing Street, Mr Lansley was lucky to encounter June Hautot, a veteran ultra-leftist, when he might have faced someone capable of making a reasonable case.
He was made to look like an amiable old bumbler who at least knew how to be polite. Ms Hautot, 75, sounded as if she had rabies. Her voice was at full howl throughout. As Mr Lansley tried to assure her that he was not introducing charging to the NHS, she bellowed: "This is '79. Don't you lie! Don't you dare lie to me!"
Mr Lansley looked momentarily bewildered, as if he could not remember what year it was or where he ought to be, until he replied mildly, "79? No, sorry, can I come through, please"?
"No, I'm not letting you go. No!" his tormentor screamed back.
Mr Lansley looked about him and said: "I'll go the other way." And on he went, past a gauntlet of other furious protesters.
Ms Hautot is a veteran of many causes. In Wandsworth, she represents Unison on the Trades Council and ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the borough council. She also tried to launch a high court action against the council over the future of Battersea power station. She has been on demonstrations for better pensions, against Israeli aggression and opposing open-cast mining. In March 1997, she was arrested in Nottinghamshire alongside Anne Scargill, wife of the miners' leader. In January, she told the journal of the Workers Revolutionary Party: "I'm all for occupations. That's our only ammunition to stop closures."
The Government's spin doctors must be praying for more opponents like her.
Hautot vs Lansley: the exchange
June Hautot "The waiting lists are going to go up, so you can wait."
Lansley "I promise you waiting times in the NHS are coming down, it will not go private."
Hautot "I've had enough of you and Cameron. Are you going to go home?"
Lansley "The NHS is not for sale, there will be no privatisation."
Hautot "Codswallop, you've been privatising since 1979. Don't you dare lie to me."
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