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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
The rebirth of John Prescott
John Prescott
Prescott's huge grin is back

Remember the huge grin John Prescott had plastered across his face for months after Labour's 1997 general election victory?

Well it's back, and for a very good reason.

Not only has the deputy prime minister been given a late career boost in the reshuffle, he has also been given ammunition for his favourite sport.


Now Tony Blair has taken the cover off his cage and he's flapping about like a man half his age

Mr Prescott loves nothing more than slagging off the media and his enhanced new role in government has handed him that opportunity on a plate.

For weeks he has been written off as over-the-hill, past it, about to be put out to grass, on his last legs, heading for retirement, finished - a soon-to-be ex-minister in fact.

The revelation that he suffers from a mild form of diabetes was further evidence that it was all over bar the shouting, something he is particularly good at as it happens.

'Useless press'

But, unlike the famous dead parrot, Mr Prescott WAS just sleeping.

Now Tony Blair has taken the cover off his cage and he's flapping about like a man half his age - which is 64 on Friday.

And with no attempt to hide his glee, he is batting aside all those previous press stories as "prattle".

John Prescott
Prescott is 64 on Friday
Here, he sneers, is clear proof that the media hasn't the first idea what it is talking about.

So, for a few weeks to come at least, we are to be treated to the sight of a beaming deputy prime minister taking every media interview available to display just how wrong Britain's useless media really is.

But Mr Prescott is not a stupid man. He knows as well as anybody else that, as ever with politics, things may not be exactly as they seem.

Devolution dead duck?

On the surface, Mr Prescott has spent 12 months keeping a low profile and has now been rewarded by being given back half of the job he used to do.

That is not insignificant. He has a shiny new deputy prime minister's department with offices scattered across Whitehall.

And he is back in charge of his pet project for regional devolution and reform of local government.

On the downside, he has to persuade an increasingly disillusioned prime minister that devolution to the regions really is a good idea after all.

And he will have to placate local councils squaring up for a battle over their grants.

Dumping ground

But, probably worse for Mr Prescott, is the fact that his briefs are prime back burner material.

No-one much is going to care if the regions don't get devolved before the next election.

And he has a maze of planning legislation to push through parliament, none of which is high on the prime minister's agenda.

The more cruel observers are already suggesting his new department is simply a place for the prime minister to dump things he can't find room for elsewhere.

So the "prattle" will continue. Now it will concern the still real prospect of Mr Prescott retiring at, or shortly after, the next election.

And, in the mean time, look for stories suggesting the new deputy prime minister's department will not survive that election.


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