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banner Monday, 25 September, 2000, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Prescott takes on the world
Prime Minister Tony Blair and deputy John Prescott
Tony Blair needs a bit of Prescott
By BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder

There's nothing John Prescott loves more than lambasting big vested interests - trades unions excepted.

And the deputy Labour leader was in his element when he addressed the party faithful in Brighton.

He poured scorn on farmers, petrol protesters, the Countryside Alliance, the Socialist Workers' Party, William Hague, Tory Lords and, the real enemy, the media.

And each time he blasted one of his targets he got a delighted response from the conference floor.

This is what they want to hear from the platform, good old-fashioned tub thumping.

There is a general mood of depression hanging over the conference and it needs somebody like Mr Prescott to lift the delegates' spirits.

In a speech which occasionally revealed true passion - particularly over fox hunting - he injected a bit of the fire that has, so far, been lacking from the conference platform.

He insisted ministers would not cave in to undemocratic protests, wherever they came from, or be blown off their economic course by short term events.

But, almost in the same breath, he promised to listen to the fuel protesters and to offer more help to pensioners.

Bernard Manning

He also gave a robust account of his controversial 10-year transport plan, and he warned of the consequences of not tackling environmental issues now.

There were flashes of the old Prescott, who used to take to the conference platform like a cleaned-up Bernard Manning.

There were a couple of jokes and, as he got into his stride, he occasionally stumbled over his words.

But this was the ministerial Prescott, determined to remind the conference of his own and his government's achievements over the past three years and keen not simply to be painted as the conference turn.

The downside for Tony Blair, however, was that his deputy did not spend a huge amount of time attacking the issues that have been battering the government.

What the prime minister may have preferred would have been the full-on, in-your-face Prescott.

This version of the beast delivers blistering assaults on his detractors, pumps up the Old Labour rhetoric and gets ecstatic receptions from the conference, sending delegates off with some real enthusiasm for the fight ahead.

It was this Prescott who famously turned the tide for former leader John Smith when he was out to dump the union block vote with a barnstorming, if mildly incoherent, conference blockbuster.

And there is no doubt that the prime minister could desperately do with a bit of the old Prescott to help persuade delegates they really are at home in New Labour.

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See also:

24 Sep 00 | Labour
Blair comes out fighting
24 Sep 00 | Labour
Cabinet wrangles mark first day
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