Prezza takes it on the chin

THERE are very few people who will admit to feeling sorry for John Prescott. The poor chap may have been humiliated by newspaper chatter over an affair with one of his diary secretaries, and also lost his departmental role, but come off it, he still has the title Deputy Prime Minister and has been allowed to keep the use of Dorneywood, his grace and favour county mansion in Buckinghamshire, where he reportedly had secret trysts with Tracey Temple.

By Graham Dines

THERE are very few people who will admit to feeling sorry for John Prescott. The poor chap may have been humiliated by newspaper chatter over an affair with one of his diary secretaries, and also lost his departmental role, but come off it, he still has the title Deputy Prime Minister and has been allowed to keep the use of Dorneywood, his grace and favour county mansion in Buckinghamshire, where he reportedly had secret trysts with Tracey Temple.

But even Prezza can't escape the scrutiny of MPs and yesterday, he stood up at 11.30, as a sort of warm up act for Prime Minister's Questions. For 30 minutes, the man dubbed two Jags after his penchant for high living - later changed to two jabs in honour of his celebrated punch up with a voter in north Wales in 2001 - had to endure the mirth and ridicule of opposition MPs.

Shortly before the performance, which seemed to attract more interest among the media packed in the Press gallery rather than the thinly spread MPs below on the green benches, the Prime Minister released the details of what his Deputy would be doing on behalf of the taxpayers for his six figure salary.


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Very little it seems. What his job entails is trying to prop up Tony Blair's flagging administration by chairing nine Cabinet committees - including one on local and regional government, his big policy failure when he was a departmental head.

“Like previous holders of the office, the Deputy Prime Minister will act with my full authority in overseeing the delivery of Government business, including delivering key pledges in the 2005 manifesto. He will have a wide ranging brief across the full range of domestic policy areas.”

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Gosh, it's nice work if you can get it, and what's more he'll be supported by a private office and secretariat, allocated from within existing civil service resources, and staff from the Cabinet Office secretariats.

And he's still enjoying the trappings of office. Looking sartorially more elegant than for many a long day, Mr Prescott knew what was to come in the Commons yesterday, and didn't flinch. Anyone looking for contrition was in for a big disappointment.

A fast talker who stumbles over his words, he took everything which was hurled at him. It was pure burlesque, equivalent to Thursday afternoon at the Glasgow Empire - and one of Labour's legion of women helped enliven proceedings.

Dari Taylor, the little known MP for Stockton South, innocently asked about housing and hoped Mr Prescott was still going to be “hands on”. The Chamber erupted, and gleeful Conservatives pleaded with her to carry on.

Ms Taylor suddenly realised the double entendre of the phrase and rose in a rage, shaking a fist at Opposition MPs and indicating that she didn't mean “that.”

Prezza came to her aid, observing that it “sounds like the sixth form at a public school.” But Tory MPs wouldn't let go, chortling at references to the “staff under him” and mention of the “social affairs committee”.

When a Tory raised the matter of pensions, Mr Prescott snapped: “I will not take any lectures about pensions after 18 years of a Tory government that actually put millions of our pensioners into poverty, took away fuel payments from them, brought about the most disastrous conditions.”

Carry on John, we love you really.

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