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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 July, 2004, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Prescott takes the helm
Summer diary
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

John Prescott is now officially running the country - and the government has launched a new leaflet telling people how to handle disasters.

John Prescott
Deputy Prime Minister is in charge
Obviously, these two events are not linked in any way other than being announced on the same day.

But that has not stopped the wags in Westminster - at least the few who are left here now the summer break has officially started - from wondering just how the deputy prime minister will avert disaster during his brief reign.

It is an annual sport, with headline writers gripped by the idea of "Thumper" having his finger on the nuclear button, or the Downing Street larder.

Nothing ever really happens, of course, and the prime minister's spokesman is eager, as ever, to stress that, while Mr Prescott is indeed in control, "the prime minister remains the prime minister wherever he is".

As if we ever doubted it.

Sunny days

And, at the moment, he is sunning himself in Barbados at, it is believed, Sir Cliff Richard's gaff.

Security means Downing Street won't confirm anything - when he will return, if he is going anywhere else, or even where he actually is.

So, it really is all down to Prezza to keep us in order over the coming few weeks.

Cliff Richard
Blair's summer holiday at Cliff's
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is in America - specifically at the Democratic Party convention in Boston.

And Michael Howard is set for a few sunny days in the once New Labour stronghold of Tuscany. So Prezza pretty much has the run of the place.

Not that there is much to have the run of, of course.

The roads in London have suddenly emptied, like a scene from the film 28 Days Later, public transport - which doesn't usually work at all - has suddenly started running like clockwork, and the Palace of Westminster is at its weirdest.

Claw hammer

All the usual, reassuring faces have gone to be replaced by an army of men in hard hats putting up scaffolding and ripping out anything not nailed down - when they take a claw hammer to it.

It is as if the Borrowers have suddenly emerged from under the floorboards, grown to full human height and started doing what they do - moving things.

London is virtually deserted

It is all in the name of improving and modernising the place, although there are plenty here who rather like its faded, crumbling Gothic ambience.

And, unlike previous years, this has all happened, literally, overnight.

In the past, the week after the end of the parliamentary session has seen a gradual winding down. A few listless MPs would hang around, departments continued working, albeit at half speed, and the builders only gradually increased in number.

Not this year, Perhaps it is the fact that Tony is out of the country, perhaps it is because Parliament now returns for a couple of weeks in September so everything has do be done quickly and perhaps it is because everyone is exhausted. But it has been less a wind down, more a plummet.

The Palace of Westminster is closed. Prezza may be in control, but it seems the plan is that nothing is going to happen here until the boss gets back.

Howard hits rocky patch
26 Jul 04 |  Election 2005
Prescott pledge on assembly polls
24 Jul 04 |  Election 2005
Sketch: Blair regenerated
22 Jul 04 |  Election 2005

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