Britain's deputy premier slugs egg-throwing voter

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LONDON - Every politician likes to press the flesh at campaign time, but Britain's deputy prime minister gave new meaning to the term Wednesday when he launched a left hook at a voter and ended up rolling on the sidewalk in a no-holds-barred melee.

John Prescott, the No. 2 figure in Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, was walking past a noisy, hostile crowd on the hustings in Wales when one of the hecklers, Craig Evans, 29, a farmworker, threw an egg at point-blank range, splattering it on the politician's head.

Known as "The Bulldog" during his years as a labor organizer, Prescott, 62, lashed out instantly with a powerful left to Evans' jaw. Evans charged the politician, and the two went down together as police and onlookers worked to separate them. Evans was handcuffed and arrested at the scene but released on bail.

Prescott said yesterday that he "regrets" the incident. At Labour Party headquarters, staffers said, a long night of strategizing produced the conclusion that Blair and his staff should laugh off the incident.

"John is John," Blair told the media with a smile.

Even opposition politicians went easy.

William Hague, leader of the Conservatives, had a deadpan reply when asked how he would respond if an egg was thrown at him: "It is not my policy to hit voters during an election," he replied.

"There is a long and honorable tradition of throwing eggs at politicians," said Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland.

Former President Clinton encountered that tradition in Warsaw yesterday, when an egg apparently thrown by an anti- globalization protester struck him on the arm during a walk in the city's Old Town district.

"The president laughed at the matter, saying, `It's good for young people to be angry about something,' " spokeswoman Jennifer Palmeri said in an Associated Press report.