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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 October 2006, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Prescott on politics
On Sunday 08 October, Andrew Marr interviewed John Prescott MP.

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

John Prescott MP
John Prescott MP

ANDREW MARR: Tony Blair's valedictory speech at the Labour Party conference wasn't the only swan song of that week.

His larger than life deputy, John Prescott, made his own very memorable and public and personal farewell.

[CLIP FROM PRESCOTT SPEECH] "And I can assure you conference I'll not be leaving the political fight.

I'll never leave the political fight, I'll never give up campaigning for the Labour Party as many as you do.

Yes, I admit, I'll be swapping my government Jag for this bus pass to campaign for Labour"

ANDREW MARR: The man who helped lead the Labour Party to three general election victories left us with no doubts as to his future commitment to the party he says he owes everything to.

John Prescott joins me now from our Hull studio. Welcome Mr. Prescott.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I was just looking for my bus pass then, since you mentioned it.

ANDREW MARR: Oh well, since you mention it.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I'll become two buses instead of two Jags.

ANDREW MARR: Two buses Prescott. I guess the obvious question, is when that's going to take place. I mean, do you have a notion in your head when that's going to happen?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I've told them that I won't be addressing Conference next year and it's clearly within that period. As the Prime Minister has said, and as I've always made clear on these matters, these are matters for me to discuss with the National Executive and the first people to know about any timetable, once Tony has announced the date, will be my party, both constituency and the National Executive, not the press. I think I've said that on your last programme anyway, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Yes, well we keep trying! Let me be clear however. When you go it will be at the same time as the Prime Minister, you will, as it were, march out shoulder to shoulder rather than a staged or staggered thing.

ANDREW MARR: I see you're trying to get more details about that and I've told you exactly what I've said at the Conference. I make my announcements to my party first and not the press or the media. And I will then tell the Constituency party as well as the National Executive, once the Prime Minister's made clear what the date is and then the National Executive looks to setting up the process for an election.

ANDREW MARR: The Prime Minister's also made clear that he wants to he'll stay on as a back bench MP for that parliament at least, and that he won't be standing again as an MP after that. Is that also going to be your position?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well, I'll make it clear that I will talk to my Constituency party. We have to make a decision, all members of parliament, as whether they intend to stand for the next election. That's a matter I will first communicate to my Constituency.

That's exactly the line I took when I run for deputy leadership. I told them first before I told anybody else. And I feel quite strongly about that. Party members don't like to keep reading in the press what they should be told first. And I feel quite strong about that.

ANDREW MARR: Were you mildly hacked off to find everybody jockeying for your job before you'd announced you were leaving it?

JOHN PRESCOTT: No, I can understand why people want to make that decision. I can tell you that when I fought for the deputy leadership on the first time against Roy Hattersley and then with Neil Kinnock, he made it very absolutely clear that he didn't want me to call an election.

I felt the deputy leader's job should be done in a different way. And I thought it was right for me to challenge. So, it wasn't accepted by the Labour establishment then, so I don't get too concerned that people can see eventually there will be an election and they want to put out there case. So, no, I don't get at all perturbed by that.

ANDREW MARR: OK. And on the subject of elections, you've made it clear that you would like to see Gordon Brown succeed as Prime Minister. What would your message be to other players in the Cabinet about a contest? Would a really serious contest be a good thing for the Labour Party or a bad thing?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think the election contests are good for the Labour Party. I remember again when I stood twice for the deputy leadership before being elected, people were saying it'll be bad. In fact, everybody agreed after the election it was good for the party.

Provided it's done in a very sensible way, a civilised way, and if you recall when Tony and I were standing with Margaret Beckett we had very good debates, both on television and the public at large, with the public at large, and I think that was accepted as a good democratic process. So I don't doubt for a moment that an election will be good for the Labour Party.

ANDREW MARR: Will you be out there campaigning for Gordon Brown?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I will wait to see all the candidates as they appear. I've made it clear that I think that Gordon Brown is a very substantial candidate, a man that certainly on the economy has proved his worth and I think that's the important aspect.

And after the two conferences, both Liberal, Tory and our own, where the issue has been about taxation and public spend, while managing to get the record amounts of public investment with stability in the economy, Gordon Brown has proved that over the last ten years. So he's a hell of a man to beat. But let's wait and see if there are other candidates.

ANDREW MARR: Well, so you might end up campaigning for somebody else?

JOHN PRESCOTT: No, I don't think so, because I think again on your programme if I can point out, I announced was supportive of Gordon Brown, that's where my position is. But to be fair to all candidates, and I can't see any on the horizon at the moment that can frankly match up to Gordon Brown.

ANDREW MARR: Are you a bit worried about these opinion polls showing him so far behind David Cameron?

JOHN PRESCOTT: No, not for a moment. Look, there's three years before the election and if I look at the substantial state of Gordon Brown and the things that he's done, measure his record against Cameron's rhetoric. At the moment I think the public are listening to his rhetoric and saying, that's a nice man and I think what's he saying and I like what he's saying, but at the end of the day it's whether you can deliver.

And when he talks about the National Health Service I've got to remember this is a man who gave us the commitment because his family were safe in the hands of the National Health Service. The policy that he designed for the last election would have in fact undermined the Health Service, not strengthen it, with his patients' passports. So within the, you know, style rather than substance, rhetoric of opposition, we're government, we deliver and we've got to get on with the job.

ANDREW MARR: And what you're suggesting there, is that in the end he doesn't really believe what he's saying. But if he did believe what he was saying and was able to deliver it, we're in the totally bizarre position of where the Tory Party could almost be to the left of the Labour Party at the next election - funny old world isn't it?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well, if it was true. I mean the test is going to be when his commissions come out, presumably he'll have to come out with some policy statements of what he will do. Then you measure how he's going to raise the money.

I mean, one substantial difference between ourselves in 1997 and the present Mr. Cameron, is that not only did we have a different style and everybody can see that that made the Labour Party look a lot better and we got that substantial victory, but we had a lot of substantial policies and they also included one very unpopular decision that we took, which Gordon Brown recommended to us all and we accepted as policy, that he was not prepared to spend more than the Tories were spending with their cuts in the first two years of a Labour government.

Now that gave us a lot of stick at the time from our own people. But what it did was to show that you can build on the stability with the Bank of England independence.

Now you've got to actually measure your public investment in public services along with the revenue you've got. Now will they cut back? Mr. Cameron's decision is that in share of growth there'll be a 17 billion cut in services. Let's hear where it's going to come from. The Liberals, basically, who are making the same point, they'll cut the tax structure but it means they've got to find 15 billion cuts to pay for some of their promises.

So the test will come, as it always is in the election, on the stability of the economy, of taxation promises and the investment in public services. You have to get the balance. And for ten years a Labour government's achieved that. And the one thing I would say to Mr. Cameron, which I am very proud about, here's my election pledge cards from the Labour Party...

ANDREW MARR: It's the pledge card again!! (laughing)

JOHN PRESCOTT: The pledge cards, but I tell you what, I could read every one of these and show you how Labour has delivered.

Now the difference between Labour this time is that we have ten years of achievements matching our promises with delivery, and we'll continue in that for the next how many years if elected again.

ANDREW MARR: Well if you promise not to read out the pledge cards and go through it, I will promise not to ask again about the...

JOHN PRESCOTT: ...health services, stable economy,

ANDREW MARR: ...I know, enough, enough.

JOHN PRESCOTT: ...what a success!

ANDREW MARR: Let me ask you about another subject. Do you think that there is an issue, a problem, about women in this country wearing the full veil?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I think there's proper debate. I mean I will readily accept what people say and what Jack has said. There shouldn't be a no-go area for debate or no-go areas for people to visit in this country. And therefore I'm all for the debate.

But you know, I've heard this argument before, and I think it sometimes, it leads to considerable difficulties. For example, Jack makes clear, government have no intention whatsoever to say to people with a veil, you shouldn't wear it. He just said it encourages separate identity.

Now I think in those circumstances you have to make a judgement. I can recall thirty years ago when we had the argument about the Seikh turbans, and whether they should be exempt from crash helmets. And we made the exemption for them. Many of these arguments being deployed now, why shouldn't they be the same as what ordinary British people are doing? Why should there be a difference and an exemption?

We had those arguments where common sense prevailed and it wasn't the great issue that people thought it was. And Jack, to be fair to Jack, I talked to him three months ago about this and he expressed that view and I expressed my concern. Now Jack represents an area where an awful lot of Muslims, and he probably knows more about that relations than any other member in the Cabinet.

But basically I do fear when you say you emphasise separation there's a fear that in the general public somehow that shouldn't happen. I think a woman that wants to wear a veil, why shouldn't she? It's her choice. It is a cultural difference but it is her choice.

ANDREW MARR: So you wouldn't ask somebody who came to your Constituency office wearing the full veil to take it off?

JOHN PRESCOTT: No, I mean, you know, I now understand Jack's argument. For example, if you argue separation then wearing the headscarf is a separation identity as much as the veil. Jack's point as I understand it, and he said to be quite frank that he is concerned and he says he's not sure about this argument but he thinks there's a matter for have discussion about and he's right.

But if somebody comes in to my Constituency where they're wearing a skull cap or wearing a turban, or very dark glasses, I'm not going to ask them to remove it. I think you can communicate with them. Let me give you one quick example. In India I was there addressing some parliamentarians, came out of this room in a hotel and there was a lady, beautiful looking, with a veil, about to get married. I was asked if I would like to meet her. I said I'd be honoured to. I shook hands with her and offered her congratulations.

She stood before me with the veil and two dark eyes peering above it, looking beautiful. And then she said, her voice came from behind this veil, saying, oh hello Mr. Prescott, I've seen you on television, I'm from Luton, I'm getting married here. It emphasises just how the migration of movements and cultural differences are now on a global scale not here.

And we need to understand that and we need to understand why people do that, and why they have the choice. Now I think this debate does open it up, thank goodness, Jack has done that. But I think I fear sometimes people might use in a more prejudice way and I'm concerned it may damage relations rather than improve them. But let's have the debate. But the argument can go either way.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. Well that's very clear. Do you think that the Labour Party needs to be reorganised for the next ten years?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I think you always have to reorganise a party. I mean, I stood as the deputy leader elections saying we have to put more emphasis on organisation, that the politics of organisation were equally as important as the politics of ideas.

And I then dealt with that. We doubled our membership, we increased the participation, we had them more actively involved in policy. Now ten years on you have to look at your organisation, see how it fits in, involve more people.

Because when you're in government after ten years you have to make sure that you keep in touch with your party. I think the Tories found that when you lost touch with your party you soon lost government. So there's always times to reorganise, modernise, and keep on going, it's called change. And I'm an old Labour guy but I've never been against change, as my history shows.

ANDREW MARR: It's been a long journey for you. Is it going to end in the House of Lords?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I wouldn't have thought so at this stage. Who knows, I mean, I don't think so because, you know I've been, what, 40 years in politics. As an MP 36 years, even longer in politics. And sometimes you want a break, sometimes you feel you might want to work out but who know, you don't what happens in politics, I don't want to be definitive about it.

ANDREW MARR: All right, Mr. Prescott, for the time being, thank you very much indeed for joining us.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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