PRECIOUS PREZZA; PRESCOTT: MY AFFAIR EXCLUSIVE: Tony Blair Heaps Praise on His Embattled Love-Storm Deputy
Byline: By OONAGH BLACKMAN Political Editor
TONY Blair yesterday paid a heartfelt tribute to his embattled deputy John Prescott - hailing him as the Government's great Mr Fix-it.
The Prime Minister, speaking in an exclusive interview with the Mirror, said there was absolutely no question of Mr Prescott quitting over his two-year affair with secretary Tracey Temple.
He added: "John is somebody who is of great value to me. People don't know the true value of what he does because it is so often behind the scenes.
"John is someone who can really sort out the problems and he does it very, very effectively. But people don't know that because it is out of the public eye."
Mr Blair's passionate support for the 67-year-old Deputy Prime Minister came as pressure mounted over the fling with blonde diary secretary Tracey, 43.
The Deputy PM grinned broadly as he left No10 after a Cabinet meeting yesterday - his first public appearance since his affair was revealed by the Mirror on Wednesday.
But some MPs were asking if he had breached ministerial rules by carrying on a relationship with a civil servant in his grace-and-favour Whitehall flat and official country home, Dorneywood.
Mr Blair, speaking from his No 10 office last night, was in no doubt the affair was a private matter and did not infringe on Mr Prescott's Cabinet duties.
The PM revealed he had a major heart-to-heart with Mr Prescott about the affair and asked "appropriate" questions.
He signalled his satisfaction by confirming his deputy would play a major role in the run-up to Thursday's local elections.
Mr Blair added: "Of course John will be out there in the campaign.
"He is somebody who is absolutely vital to the Labour Party and to the Government."
But he accepted Labour would lose council seats on Thursday, adding: "If you look back in the third term of any Government, and we have never been in a third term before, this is what happens."
Mr Blair gave a tantalising hint of the pivotal role Mr Prescott has played in brokering peace deals when there is bad blood between the PM and his Chancellor and heir apparent Gordon Brown. He said: "For me he has often done things in a behind-the-scenes way which have often been really important for the Government."
And he painted a picture of the outwardly-bluff, no-nonsense Mr Prescott as a subtle negotiator and diplomat capable of finding a way out the trickiest situations.
He said the best example was the way he handled the 1997 Kyoto Treaty, in which the world's leading industrial nations agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions after weeks of wrangling. Mr Blair said: "People forget about John and the Kyoto Treaty. Everyone now says it was the ground-breaking international event. He was absolutely central in delivering that.
"And the reason we have the Channel Tunnel rail link is because he brokered a deal out of a complete mess. …