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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 June 2007, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
End of an era
On Sunday 24 June Andrew Marr interviewed John Prescott MP - Deputy Prime Minister

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

John Prescott MP
John Prescott MP - Deputy Prime Minister

ANDREW MARR: Now, it's not only the Blair years which are drawing to a close, these are John Prescott's last hours as Deputy Labour Leader.

And he too will cease to be Deputy Prime Minister on Wednesday.

He's here with me now, but just before we talk let's have a quick look back at some of the more memorable moments of his long political career.

We begin with that electrifying conference speech back in 1993 which secured his pivotal position at the top of the party.

[clips from Prescott's political life]

And the Deputy Prime Minister, still, just, John Prescott is with me now. Welcome.

I suppose I should start by asking you about your health because you've had a rough few weeks. How are you?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I have, yes and I'm well but I'm under strict control of the doctors, under conditions and, anyway the body soon tells you after pneumonia you've done enough, have a rest.

And can I just thank through you the many hundreds of people who've sent messages of support, it's been exhilarating to receive them and I think it helped towards my recovery.

ANDREW MARR: Scary at the time?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes. I've never had so many needles and pipes pumped into you but it was in a wonderful hospital. You know, it was about ten years, about 14 years ago I was involved in a taxi just outside this hospital, in a crash. They took me in there, into that hospital. Going in now ten years after a Labour government into a PFI hospital with wonderful medical facilities, staff working well, just brought it home to me the difference after ten years.

ANDREW MARR: I suspect you weren't thinking about the PFI as you were rolled in?

JOHN PRESCOTT: No, but I saw but marvellous the hospital is, how wonderful the staff worked at UCH and I mean it was really super, absolutely.

ANDREW MARR: All right. OK. Looking back, you have been Deputy Prime Minister for ten years, probably nobody will be Deputy Prime Minister ever again, over ten years.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Longest period I would have thought.

ANDREW MARR: Ups and downs which we all know about. You didn't get your regional devolved assembly as you wanted. How do you assess your own contribution.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I've been unique to have ten years in government, delivering on policies I wrote about 20 years ago, for example, yes the devolution. I was asked by Michael Foot to see if we could get an agreement in Scotland and Wales, very controversial at that time. So I produced a document to show how we could get devolution in all areas, now coming in isn't it. Unfortunately for the limited time we didn't it in the north-east. I brought in a strategy on alternative economic policy which showed you could have full employment and investment in our public services.

We've done that. I called for reform of public financing which Gordon as a great Chancellor brought about, so we had bond financing which saved the Channel Tunnel investment. Public private money going into the transport, hospitals and schools, billions of pounds extra from that. And that meant that we have more people on public transport than before. And then into our cities, great Manchester here, look at what's going here.

You've got a light railway system, you've got the development of these old buildings. Manchester Airport reformed into an international airport, all those things came out of changing of public private financing, and congestion charges, all these were radical changes. When I look back over the ten years I think it's great. One last point of course, I was glad to be in Kyoto. Kyoto as one of the three in the last few hours that actually thrashed out the agreement.

I look back on that with pride and say, well, I did that as well, and a government that has actually followed traditional values in a modern setting, economic prosperity and social justice, ten years we've delivered and you know as well as I, in my last time as Deputy Prime Minister delivered on every one of our promises. Now that's a good record and I'm proud of it.

ANDREW MARR: Let me ask you about TVGVs, Brown and Blair. Let me ask you very directly. Had you not been there to mediate between them, do you think they would have stuck it out together for ten years?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I think so, they're two great men. They know that they're working for the country first of all, and of course for the Labour Party. They know we have to get, keep winning elections.

Three elections, I mean to hear that we're up in the polls today after being in ten years, tell me any other government that's won three elections and increasing in the polls - and it's sunny in Manchester! It's gotta to be good for us today hasn't it.

ANDREW MARR: There's clouds ahead I would say. That's Manchester, there's always clouds in Manchester. But, I mean..

JOHN PRESCOTT: But Manchester's a great city, it's a great European city that the Labour Council brought about.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think I'd be here dissing Manchester, certainly not. The Independent on Sunday's got this story about Blair planning to sack Brown immediately after the election we've just had. I mean there has been some very, very difficult moments between them haven't there?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Of course, these are two great guys, you know, and they've played major parts in winning those elections. Gordon in the economy, and I'm sure his success and abilities will serve as well in the next few years that we've got. But quite frankly, I think you get these advisors, say, in these things.

I've read the story, is it Gould? Is it why all his memos always leaked to the press right, as he said it. Lord Burke, I think he was another one who was attributed to saying this. Well I remember Lord Burke...

ANDREW MARR: But they did nearly break apart didn't they?

JOHN PRESCOTT: They got into tension, but breaking apart is an entirely different thing, I can say, and I was privileged to listen to some of these arguments, about real, real issues, make no mistake about it. But they knew you had to be united. I called for it at conference, better together, working together.

But I think we've got to ignore some of these kind of advice. I think Lord Burke, he wasn't a paid advisor and I think he was worth every penny of it.

ANDREW MARR: Very good, alright. The deputy leadership will be announced. The result of the deputy leadership in a few hours' time. I assume, like the rest of us you don't know who it's going to be at this stage?

JOHN PRESCOTT: No I certainly don't.

ANDREW MARR: You don't. Do you think it should be the same kind of job as you've been doing, should it be another deputy prime minister?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well it's interesting isn't it. We're in government, but when I was elected we were in opposition and we had about three years before the election. That's precisely the same time now. I redefined the deputy leader's job, not somebody given it who's lost the election.

But to do something about the organisation of party, increase membership - we were able to double it. Get ready for the elections and that stood us well. I think we took the eye off the ball to a certain extent about that, about the politics of organisation being as important as the politics of ideas and policy.

And I think any new deputy leader now, and they've all said it during this election, have got to get in and tell our people what we did in ten years. Get ready for the election, get us strengthened, because to win that next election...

ANDREW MARR: Because the party membership has halved.

JOHN PRESCOTT: It has. And indeed it was at that level when I came in that it went up to 400,000. What I'm now saying is that's the job, let's concentrate on that. And I notice every one of the candidates have said that, they've never got caught up basically and neither did I with deputy prime minister.

That is the prime minister's job. But this is about party, it's an important party post and I think they've all recognised that's the case. So let us get on with the organisation, strengthening the party, bringing back enthusiasm into it. These are essential to win the next election.

ANDREW MARR: What about the campaign? This has take us to this point. Were you happy with that? A lot of people in that campaign effectively criticising a lot of stuff that had happened over the last ten years.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I think they are campaigns aren't they, they make a number of points. I do know this when I hear some of these comments, I didn't quite hear them in the Cabinet at the time, but you know, these are elections, these are campaigners, they are pressured by all sorts of people. And I think people understand that. They're setting out their stalls as they see it and, let's get on with it.

ANDREW MARR: It doesn't look from the outside as if it's been terribly healthy for the party, those comments, bringing up Iraq again. But also discovering how very, very few people at the end of it all have bothered to vote.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well first of all I don't agree that it's not healthy for a party. I've always believed, you know, when I stood for deputy leadership Neil wasn't very happy about it. But I think he said it was good for the party at the end of the day that we did have the discussion and the debate, it didn't break out in any rancour.

And they were just deputy leadership, no - and leadership. This time of course we're in government. That does make a difference. You're having to talk about against the background of government rather than opposition. So to that extent I think the debate has been good. Turnout I think has been affected by there isn't a leadership election, there wasn't another candidate.

ANDREW MARR: And people just didn't think it was a terribly exciting or important job perhaps.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I think that's it. I think also that, and I think the deputy leadership is an important job and as a party post, it can be very, very important indeed. But concentrate on that effort and I hope whoever is elected will recognise we've got to get the politics of organisation right with the politics of ideas. Put them on balance, we did that and it stood us well for three elections, hopefully if we get it right it'll be the fourth as well under Gordon Brown.

ANDREW MARR: He's been talking, clearly, to Liberal Democrats including Paddy Ashdown. Would you have sat in the Cabinet with Paddy Ashdown?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think I have to be truthful, and I did say to Tony Blair if Paddy Ashdown walked in the front door I'll be out the front door. That was our period of time. Now we've moved into a whole set of new politics of course. And Gordon is saying that he wants the good people with good contributions to make, well I have sat in a coalition government with Callaghan when we tried to survive for another six months under the steel arrangement.

And we voted for it though I didn't like it, but I understood the reality of it. I've appointed people to work with me like Lord Rogers on the renaissance that's happened in our cities now, tremendous. On his recommendations, I don't know what his political position is, but I know he was the best man to give us that advice. So there are lots of examples where people come from outside, assist and help. When they're in a Cabinet is a much more controversial decision. It is the decision.

ANDREW MARR: You'd still like to keep them out of Cabinet really, a Labour Cabinet, would you?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I'm old Labour.

ANDREW MARR: Oh well, that's that. I haven't heard you put it quite as bluntly as that before.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I've always been old Labour. I'm Labour, I'm not new Labour. But I'm Labour and we came together. Traditional values in a modern setting, that's how Tony set it out, and as I explained it. And now I hear Cameron talking about, well we've Conservative principles in a modern challenging circumstances.

Isn't that the same? Just shows how much Tony Blair changed the tories, he'd force in some of that old policy. I don't believe he'd believe it for a second, they're just doing rhetoric. But I do, traditional values in a modern setting is the principles of this government and I think we'll govern it under Gordon Brown.

ANDREW MARR: And what about yourself? Are you going to come back as Lord Prescott?

JOHN PRESCOTT: No, I mean, look I haven't even resigned my constituency and you know I've always said, I talk first of all to my constituency. The last discussion I had with them was to say to them I want to step down, and for them to express their view about it, as I did when I ran for the deputy leadership.

I will now have another discussion about what that future is, but that's two or three years away. In the meantime I want to get on with the slavery commemoration that we had in the year. I want to finish off my work on the China taskforce, completing the report for the two prime ministers which will be Gordon Brown now, on sustainable cities. So there's still a lot of things I want to do.

ANDREW MARR: You'd like to remain in public life in some form?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Oh I'll be in public life. I'll be in that campaign in the elections, I don't know whether they'll give me a battle horse but I'll be there. Perhaps I'll have to do it with my pensioner's pass but I'll be in there.

ANDREW MARR: And, looking back, thinking about that hall and your speech there. Biggest regret probably personal rather than political over the last ten years?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well, what is the personal regret.

ANDREW MARR: The affair and what you had to say there.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes, well that was a disappointment and I, you know, I let people down, and I think I've made it clear in that particular hall but I must say when I used to come through there as a comme chef when I was 15 years of age it was a station, now when I see how Manchester's been transformed.

ANDREW MARR: It's looking a lot better.

JOHN PRESCOTT: It makes it a lot better. It's a beautiful city Manchester because of the Labour council and Labour government working together, good examples of the renaissance of the cities.

Mr. Heseltine, don't come telling us what you have to do about renaissance cities, go to the cities and have a look at them. That's what we've done and that's a policy implemented, so I walk out with pride.

ANDREW MARR: The unrepeatable John Prescott. Thank you very much indeed.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Hope the grammar was OK.

ANDREW MARR: Certainly was.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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