Thursday, July 06, 2006

It's not just Tory bloggers who think Prescott should go

The last time I wrote anything about John Prescott was four weeks ago in my Saturday column which appears in the Newcastle Journal, Derby Evening Telegraph and Lincolnshire Echo.

On that occasion I wrote:

"Mr Prescott’s sole case for continuance in office rests on the argument that it would be better for the Labour Party to resolve the leadership and deputy leadership issues at the same time.

"True - but that is not an argument for Mr Prescott to cling on till Mr Blair goes. It is, rather, an argument that they should both go now."

So why the reticence since then? Well, it's not that I've been avoiding the subject. It's just that nothing that has happened in the whole Prescott saga in the meantime has caused me to revise this opinion in any way.

The fact that Mr Prescott received hospitality from a millionaire who wants to open a casino in the Millennium Dome, or that Guido Fawkes has named the third Prescott mistress merely confirms me in my view that Labour needs a clean sweep at the top.

Today the story has taken a different turn with claims that "Tory bloggers" are behind a "dirty tricks campaign" designed to force Mr Prescott out of office.

The series of claims was made via Mr Prescott's biographer and unofficial media spokesman Colin Brown in today's Independent.

"Friends of the Deputy Prime Minister claim he has been the target of a "dirty tricks" campaign by "bloggers" with Tory right-wing links. They are furious at the use of two Westminster internet sites to name a third woman with whom the bloggers allege John Prescott has had an affair, and a woman civil servant in Beijing who is said to have rebuffed his advances.

Mr Prescott's allies have privately urged him to take action to remove the smears or close the sites down. His advisers said he was unlikely to do so, to avoid giving them more prominence.

"It is the black arts," said a Prescott ally. "They are running a dirty tricks campaign and they are being used as a conduit by journalists."

The Labour MP was named by a "gunpowder plot" website called Guido Fawkes. Friends of the blogger said it was run by a libertarian conservative, Paul Staines, a former Tory activist. The website yesterday challenged Mr Prescott to sue. The Prescott camp also accused Iain Dale, a past Tory parliamentary candidate, of using his own personal blogsite to recycle the smears."

The BBC's Nick Robinson has also waded in, attempting to play down the Prescott story and accusing bloggers of "attempting to make the political weather."

Naturally Iain and Guido have given their various responses to these claims and these can be read HERE and HERE.

So what to make of it, in particular Prescott's claim that journalists are using blogger as a conduit? Well, knowing how journalism works, I don't doubt that the odd bit of gossip probably does flow back and forth between the blogosphere and the mainstream media.

In the old days, when newspaper hacks had a story they couldn't quite get past the legals, they would pass it on to Private Eye, or to a diary column where less rigorous legal restrictions applied. Nowadays, they just end up on Guido and Iain Dale.

As an aside, it's a pity they can't be shared around a bit as Iain and Guido don't really need the traffic....but does it really amount to "dirty tricks?" by "politically motivated" bloggers?

Okay, so Iain Dale is a former (and future?) Tory candidate, but then again Nick Robinson is a former chairman of Macclesfield Young Conservatives, and he is taking a much softer line on the story.

But just as it is not just Tory MPs who have expressed concern about Prescott's behaviour, neither is it just "Tory" bloggers who have done so.

In fact, there are plenty of us on the centre-left who can see the damage he and Blair are doing to the progressive cause by remaining in office so long past their sell-by-date.

The latest speculation is that the end result of all this will be that Prescott will resign as Deputy Prime Minister but hold on to his (meaningless) role of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

If so, it can only serve as a temporary device for getting them through to the party conference in Manchester, when the issue will have to be settled.

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skipper said...

I agree it's not just a rightwing campaign- the retention of TB and JP is actively harming labour every day they stay in post. Interesting that Prezza in his vigorous self defence against rottweiller Humphries, insisted there did not have to be an election if he resigned his Deputy leadership, claiming the party's constitution as his authority.

Ceridwen Devi said...

Prescott should go. But then so should Blair and the rest of the cabal. "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." George Orwell. Steve Jago was arrested on 18 June in Whitehall for carrying a placard in Whitehall quoting Orwell. Deceit is Prescott's stock-in trade.

Anonymous said...

Hello Paul,
Interesting comments. I'm a Guardian reporter and I'm writing a story for the Guardian about the role of political bloggers in the Prescott affair. I would be very interested to have a quick chat with you. Do you have a contact number? My email is

Francis Walsingham said...

Absolutely right. It is not merely a rightwing campaign. I am broadly a Conservative supporter, but everyone on the centre left or left, even Blair's own supporters, must see that this is tearing strips of the government. If and when Prescott resigns, I strongly suspect it will be a case of the fatal blow having been delivered from the inside, rather than purely in response to public pressure and media stories.

I would love to know whether any on the centre left who support a Brown leadership think that this would be an opportune moment for him to, for example, publicly refuse to give his support to Prescott? Or some other small but significant act. Guido is saying that Harman's outriders are prepared to agitate for Prescott to resign, and that Harman would be running up Brown's colours in any deputy leadership campaign. I can understand the reasoning behind wanting to ensure an orderly transition, but so much damage is being done to the government on an almost hourly basis at the moment that there is very little orderly to it. More on the Dome, and more names re. Prescott's affairs and attempted affairs, will emerge in the next few weeks. On my side of the floor, the ability to wield the knife on a deadbeat leadership can from time to time earn the respect of the party, because the alternative, defeat at a general election, is worse than a massacre at the top. Are there any Brown supporters who would like him to take this opportunity to do it? I am not suggesting that he say "If I were Prime Minister I would have fired him long ago", but to my eyes it would not look bad, and it may even look good, for him to stop behaving as if his being Prime Minister were entirely in the gift of Tony Blair. Doing so might at least make clear to Blair that things were, in fact, precisely the other way round.