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Mr Brown left speechless.

It is tempting to believe that Newcastle East and Wallsend MP Nick Brown was simply "running scared" last night when he decided at the last minute not to address Durham University's Fabian Society.

The fact that around 200 students were due to stage a protest over his late conversion to support university top-up fees was the official reason for him not turning up.

Mr Brown claimed the students' invitation was merely a "device" to get him into a confrontation, where he would be "jostled" in front of the television cameras.

Even putting aside the question of how he could know this with such dramatic accuracy, why should that bother him?

Mr Brown is a veteran of many a rough ride in his political career. He was pelted with cream cakes by a protestor during the foot-and-mouth crisis when he was Agriculture Minister. During that time he also faced many potentially difficult situations.

He is also a veteran of the whips' office.

In short, he is not the kind of person who usually shies away from a few protest banners, the odd catcall and a bit of "jostling." A far more believable theory is that it is not Mr Brown who is "running scared" - it is the Government.

The Downing Street spin machine - at number 10 or number 11 - is alive and well and it is not going to allow any relatively high profile MP to be on the wrong end of a demonstration just now.

All of which is rather a bad thing in a democracy - especially a democracy which so recently sent our Army to war so that oppressed people can enjoy the rights we do. Rights like being able to protest peacefully against, and demand answers from, those who lead us.

Sadly, we feel sure the irony of this situation will be lost on whoever it was who decided that Mr Brown would not be speaking last night.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 14, 2004
Words:320
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