Labour's local election campaign hit a snag in the Midlands yesterday when Foreign Secretary Jack Straw found himself barred from a shop - despite the campaign being launched on a platform of tackling anti-social behaviour
While Tony Blair and Gordon Brown put on a public show of unity at the London launch, a shopkeeper in Bedworth refused to allow Mr Straw in for fear his property could become a target for vandals.
Party officials had selected a small parade of shops at Bedworth Heath, close to a middle class housing estate built on a former coal pit, for Mr Straw's visit.
The intention was to promote a crackdown on violence by youngsters outside the One Stop Shop. A police operation last year resulted in three youths being jailed and a number of anti-social behaviour orders being handed out.
The shop, which was once forced to close at 7pm every night because of the threat of violence, now opens until 10pm. However, Labour representatives were forced to tell Mr Straw he could not enter the shop after the owner said he did not want publicity for fear of reprisals from local yobs.
"He fears he might get his windows put in," admitted Mike O'Brien, the Labour MP for North Warwickshire.
Undaunted, Mr Straw entered a Chinese takeaway where the owners were only too keen to talk about their experiences of anti-social behaviour. The family running the outlet said they regularly faced racial and physical abuse from youngsters.
Mr Straw insisted that CCTV, Asbos and other restraint orders were making a difference.
He said: "It is a constant battle but we are enabling the police to get convictions more easily. Getting the evidence can be tricky."
Mr Straw, who was in Bed-worth and Redditch to launch Labour's West Midlands local election campaign, added: "People need a short term solution to this because they cannot wait.
"But in the longer term it is a question of changing the nature of parenting. That's why we introduced parenting orders to intervene with parents when youngsters are causing trouble.
"All of us who have teenagers know they can be a handful. But ultimately it is the parents' responsibility."
Labour, in a 2,500-word briefing note about Nuneaton and Bedworth, a borough it has controlled for more than 30 years, pointed to the addition of 73 police officers in Warwickshire since 1997 and a 25 per cent reduction in vehicle theft.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor smiled for the cameras and praised each other in front of an audience of party activists in London's Docklands as they
set the scene for the May 4 contests across England. Mr Blair and Mr Brown appeared together after reports that the Chancellor had been sidelined, but was added to the cast list at the main launch after a trip to the United Nations in New York had been cancelled.
Mr Blair again dismissed questions about when he was to stand down as "soap opera" politics and heaped praise on his Chancellor's record, saying the proceeds of the strong economy were needed to invest in our public services.
But Conservative leader David Cameron, speaking during a visit to Gosport, Hants, said: "Have they kissed and made up yet? It would be funny if it wasn't so serious."