Magazine article The Spectator

Won't Speak, Can't Speak

Magazine article The Spectator

Won't Speak, Can't Speak

Article excerpt

FIGHTING TALK: THE BIOGRAPHY OF JOHN PRESCOTT by Colin Brown Simon & Schuster, 15.99, pp. 344

In a few weeks' time, John Prescott might be a very senior member of the government. If that were to happen, then, in our author's words, Mr Blair's relations with `his difficult, belligerent, big-hearted deputy could determine the success or failure of [his] government'. So a good biography would be timely; this is not a good biography.

The rudiments of Mr Prescott's career are well known. He started out as a class warrior, for whom every political problem had a simple answer: high public spending, trade union power and redistribution of wealth. Since Tony Blair became Leader, John Prescott may or may not have modified his views; he has certainly suppressed them. There has been the occasional mutinous eruption, as when Harriet Harman decided to send her son to a grammar school. John Prescott did sit next to Tony Blair on the Labour front bench, but the expression on his face was unprintable. He had already told one interviewer that `I'm not going to defend any f-ing hypocrites.'

For most of the time, however, Mr Prescott has been prepared to co-operate with the spin-doctors; his main priority is the same as theirs: a Labour victory. But to return to Colin Brown's question: could this strained concordat survive the stresses of office? This book does not even attempt to provide the answer.

It would not have been easy to do so; Mr Prescott is not in the habit of expounding his political views in a lucid fashion. But the author was given a great deal of access and seems to have made no attempt to probe. It is as if he did not want anything to appear in print which would have been seriously embarrassing to Mr Blair. As a result, the book is far too long for its material; it is also banally written. Our author seems to believe that every sentence is entitled to a separate paragraph; then again, his arguments are rarely strong enough to sustain a whole paragraph.

Even some of the anecdotes are sanitised. We are told that John Prescott was once so busy talking to a journalist on his mobile phone that he missed the motorway exit: `You've made me miss my bloody turn-off,' he told the unidentified hack in question. The hack was Peter Dobbie of the Mail on Sunday, and the word used was not 'bloody'. …

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