Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Prescott Staying Power Assured by Rivalry

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Prescott Staying Power Assured by Rivalry

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Linford

Last November, in the dark days following the spectacular demise of his regional government dream, there were many queuing up to write the political obituary of John Prescott.

Now that his long-held ambition of establishing regional assemblies had crumbled to dust, the question was asked whether there was any longer any point to the Deputy Prime Minister.

Supposedly informed commentators predicted that the 66-year-old former ship steward would be abruptly pensioned off after the election and his regions superministry dismantled.

Later on, there was even some absurd speculation that Tony Blair would bring back David Blunkett as his deputy ( as if the Labour deputy leadership was some kind of bauble in the Prime Minister's gift.

Well, those stories were always wide of the mark, displaying near-total ignorance both of Labour's internal machinery and of Mr Prescott's pivotal position within it

The fact is that Mr Prescott will remain Labour's deputy leader as long as Mr Blair remains its leader, for the simple reason that the last thing either of them want is a deputy leadership election.

But over the past week, as the Blair-Brown psycho-drama that has gripped Westminster reached a new level of intensity, Mr Prescott's position has become even more impregnable.

Indeed, it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that, in one sense at least, he is now the most powerful figure in the Government.

The reason, of course, goes back to that fateful dinner at Admiralty House in November, 2003, at which Mr Prescott attempted to broker a deal between Prime Minister and Chancellor.

According to author Robert Peston and others, Mr Blair told Mr Brown at this meeting that he had lost the trust of the electorate and had thus decided to stand down before the election.

In return, the Prime Minister is said to have asked Mr Brown to give him his total support over the forthcoming year to enable him to leave office with dignity.

Perhaps significantly, Mr Blair has not specifically denied the story, saying only when challenged about it in the Commons on Wednesday that you "do not do deals over jobs like this".

For my part, as I have said previously, I believe the key to the affair probably lies in Mr Blair's genius for enabling people to think he has made them certain promises when he hasn't.

But whatever it was that passed bet-ween Mr Blair and Mr Brown that night, only one man ( Mr Prescott ( knows the real truth.

If he were now to reveal that Mr Blair did indeed offer to stand down in Mr Brown's favour, and has subsequently broken that promise, the Prime Minister's position would be parlous to say the least.

But if on the other hand he were to reveal there was no such offer, and hence that the Brown camp had made up this entire, deeply damaging story, then it is the Chancellor who would be in deep water. …

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