Magazine article The Spectator

I Cannot Prove It, or Tell You Why, but John Prescott Is to Be Killed

Magazine article The Spectator

I Cannot Prove It, or Tell You Why, but John Prescott Is to Be Killed

Article excerpt

I urning points are just that: locations rather than landmarks. A stone bv the roadside, a shrub, a twisted tree may be unmemorable in themselves yet memorable for being the points upon which a journey turned.

For John Prescott, I am afraid, it was that windy walk in Bournemouth - the one he took a 200-yard ride in a Jaguar to avoid which proved the turning point. The Battle for Pauline's Hair was only a minor skirmish, but it occurred at some kind of watershed. From then on it has been downhill for the Deputy Prime Minister.

And I think all is lost. I watched him in the Chamber last week delivering a statement on .. do you know, I can't even remember. I could look it up for you but, really, who cares? For nobody was taking a blind bit of notice of what Mr Prescott was saying. The Tories were giggling at him (that two-Jags joke of William Hague's in the Queen's Speech debate stung), the ministers beside him looked unimpressive and unimpressed, we sketchwriters had pencils poised only for the grammatical howlers we call `Prescottisms', and behind the great Secretary of State was a dearth of those poodles whose panting attendance upon a minister - little bulging eyes on the main chance as they wag tails for their master and nip at the opposition's legs - marks him as a coming force.

Prescott is a going force. Careers are no longer served by barking in this man's cause, and the chaps sense it. By some osmotic process colleagues know when a fellow is dead meat. They say you can tell by the change in Tony Blair's eyes when he looks at the victim: the pupils narrow, as they did before he pulled the props from under Harriet Harman and decided to kill her.

Prescott is also to be killed, but not yet. We cannot prove it, or tell you why, but we feel it. It may be a very slow death, and he may repine for years yet in a kind of careercoma, for Blair is likely to postpone switching him off until after the next election. But the end is coming.

I am uncertain whether Mr Prescott knows this, but we do. Those invisible glass shields that guard Mr Blair's favoured sons have slid silently back in the night and he has awoken to find himself unprotected. At Bournemouth we noticed the glee among his senior colleagues when the story of Pauline's Hair hit the media. `Poor John.' And they let him swing.

Nothing would have been easier than for a trusted privy counsellor to whisper in the ear of a favoured political editor that of course John had wanted to walk, but there were very good reasons - of a kind whose divulgence would be prejudicial to security - why he had been emphatically advised not to, not even for a few hundred yards, on this exposed cliff. I have heard such conversations, -and in the world of the British press lobby they are effective. This one would end, ' . . . and, no, you can't print that security stuff; and I can't stop you publishing a story which will make Pauline cry; so go on, write it - but you'll know, and I'll know, and Tony will know, that it wasn't fair.' This would have worked.

That nobody did it for Prescott was subliminally what made the Battle for Pauline's Hair such a significant engagement in observers' minds. The press hit the story hard; now I think nobody will ever forget it.

It serves well as a pivotal tale for a different reason, too - a reason characteristic of these turning points. …

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