The Mother Duck Lesson
Bremner, Rory, New Statesman (1996)
The bank holiday found me trying (unsuccessfully) to cast a line on the Tweed--not an activity you'd associate with the New Statesman, salmon fishing being more a Spectator sport. But now John Prescott has shown the way on the croquet lawn, the rest of us must do our best to keep up. "I've not seen you on the box for a while," said the gillie, as he rowed me out to the appointed spot. "Is that you retired, then?" Stupidly--though appropriately, given the circumstances--I rose to the bait, protesting that the past year had been one of my busiest ever and I was feeling knackered. "Aye well," he said, "ah wouldnae know; ah dinnae watch television anyway."
That was my first lesson: having spent a lifetime luring salmon on to the bait, my companion was equally adept at reeling in vain performers. The second lesson was more fascinating. As another hour passed on the river, a friend told me about a remarkable piece of duck behaviour he'd observed.
The duck in question had a newly hatched group of ducklings in tow, and whenever my friend got too close, the mother feigned an injury to her wing, swimming away from the rest of her brood and exciting my friend's curiosity. The "injured wing" trick was designed to attract attention on to the adult duck and allow the little ones to escape unharmed.
At that moment I understood the point of John Prescott, and the reason why it is so important for Tony Blair to hold on to him. The more we focus on the Deputy Prime Minister, now indisputably a lame duck, the less attention we give to what's going on elsewhere in the government. If 11 September was a good day to bury bad news, the Prescott affair has provided a smokescreen as dense as the DPM himself. The attention switches to the minutiae of the new Labour court; who's in, who's out, who's shaking it all about.
(That'll be Prescott, then.)
But even that could not obscure the events at the Home Office, now under new management. …