Friday, April 04, 1997

Gladstone & Disraeli revisited

Ok, background: you will remember the man in the chicken suit who followed Bush around when he was stalling on debates. The Tories have stolen the idea. As it turns out, the guy hired for the job isn't even a Tory himself. Read this one to the end, it just keeps getting weirder.

UK News Electronic Telegraph Friday 4 April 1997
Cries of foul over headless chicken
By Robert Shrimsley, Jon Hibbs and Rachel Sylvester

THE Tory chicken had the stuffing knocked out of it yesterday when a teenage girl tore off its head in Scotland.

Tories said the young woman who decapitated their creature was a "Labour thug" who "set upon our brave chicken to stop him asking difficult questions".

The chicken was waiting in Port Street, Stirling, to tackle Tony Blair on devolution and his refusal to join a television debate with John Major. A Tory activist said Labour supporters surrounded the bird, shouting abuse at it. Suddenly, the girl burst out of the crowd, grabbed its head and ran off down the street to loud cheers.

Fortunately for Noel Flanagan, the man in the chicken suit, the head was recovered in one piece by Scottish police. In the words of one Tory press spokesman: "The chicken goes on."

Police refused to comment on the incident but it is understood that the offender was released with only a telling off. Labour denied that any of its workers was responsible for the incident.

A spokesman for Mr Blair said the chicken had been invited to dinner but had flown back to London.

Mr Flanagan, hired to highlight Tory claims that Mr Blair was running away from a television debate, had flown to Stirling. He shared the shuttle with George Robertson, the shadow Scottish secretary.

The chicken was to follow the Labour leader, who was campaigning in the marginal Tory seat held by Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary. However, his efforts to henpeck Mr Blair were hampered by a man from the Scottish Daily Mirror dressed as Freddy the Fox, who blocked his path during a 15-minute walkabout.

As Mr Blair approached, the chicken was seen to stumble and was pushed to the back of the crowd surrounding the Labour leader, where it waved a placard before skulking off. A jubilant Freddy observed: "I had him for dinner. I stopped him getting anywhere near Tony. Tony shook my hand and thanked me for it."

However, Mr Blair's guardian refused to identify himself, saying: "The whole thing is embarrassing enough as it is." The incident came at the end of a traumatic day for the Tory chicken. Earlier, he got into a nasty fight with a rival chicken with a detachable head, sent by the Mirror newspaper, as he strutted across College Green in Westminster.

He was also pursued across London by another fox, two teddy bears and a plastic rhinoceros.

The scuffle with the Mirror chicken, carrying its head under its wing, came as he returned to Conservative Central Office. The two birds war-danced around Smith Square "pecking at each other very aggressively", according to one witness. As the confrontation turned nasty one of the Tory media minders crossed the road to separate the two.

Alex Aiken, the Conservative head of regional press, wrestled the Mirror's chicken to the ground and told his own bird to return to the Central Office coop.

But the Mirror chicken was furious. "He threw me against a wall and took my head off," he said. The Tory minder had "mad eyes" and was "quite burly", he added.

The bespectacled Mr Aiken, who is actually far from burly, denied excessive violence, saying: "It was a Labour stooge chicken."

John Major defended the stunt, saying: "We are just attempting to egg Mr Blair into a debate."

After the fracas, Mr Flanagan flew straight to Scotland, disappointing two men in teddy bear suits who said they were the Teddy Bears' Alliance. They camped outside the Labour launch to challenge the Tory chicken to a debate.

The chicken also missed the man in a huge grey plastic rhino outfit who greeted Mr Blair outside a west London shopping centre.

Rhino man refused to give his identity but said he wanted to protest at the way "the level of debate in the political campaign seems to have become ludicrously cheap with a lot of people dressing up as animals".

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