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Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK

UK Politics

'Faceless wonders' attacked - sources

John Prescott: Making his frustration clear

Senior figures in both the Labour and Conservative parties have attacked anonymous government advisers who attempt to smear their rivals in the press.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott hit out at the "faceless wonders" whom he blames for attempting to undermine his plans to modernise the UK's transport network.

[ image: David Miliband, head of No 10's policy unit: One of the
David Miliband, head of No 10's policy unit: One of the "Young Turks"?
His latest assault on the growing number of behind the scenes advisers in Tony Blair's government followed his rousing defence of the public sector, which contrasted markedly to the prime minister's comments just the day before.

Mr Prescott said: "I am a politician and they are not. I face the general election and they don't."

The deputy prime minister's comments suggest growing personal irritation at newspaper stories critical of his work. The latest said the prime minister had ordered an end to his M4 bus lane experiment after he was caught in a traffic jam.

But politicians from across the political divide have rushed to support the call for curbs on anonymous sources and internal backstabbing among politicians and their factions.

Michael Heseltine: "There's been an invasion of Young Turks with axes to grind"
Former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine admitted the problem had existed under the previous Conservative government, but said it was now getting worse among all parties.

"The fact is that Whitehall-Westminster is riddled today with anonymous commentators," he said.

[ image: Michael Heseltine:
Michael Heseltine: "Incestous backbiting has got to come to an end"
"The press give them, in my view, far too much credibility. They don't name them.

"If you see, for example, 'a senior backbencher said', you can be pretty sure it is some obscure person nobody's ever heard of venting his spleen at not getting promoted."

He urged party leaders to take action to stop the trend.

"I think there's been an invasion of Young Turks with axes to grind into the political system all of whom go around conspiring on behalf of this or that cause in both parties.

"If I was William Hague I would I think take an axe to it and say this sort of incestuous backbiting and bitterness at public expense has got to come to an end."

Anonymous sources are part of a long tradition in UK politics, with the daily lobby briefing by Alastair Campbell still attributable only to "the prime minister's official spokesman" and off-camera.

What appears to most greatly irk Mr Prescott, though, is the increasing number of advisers, such as David Miliband, head of the Number 10 Downing Street policy unit.

But coming hard on the heels of his public sector defence, it shows the deputy prime minister is increasingly prepared to speak out against the tactics and message of the Blair administration.

But Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers claimed no divisions existed between the prime minister and his deputy.

While Mr Blair had spoken of the "scars on his back" caused by trying to force the public sector to reform, Mr Prescott the following day told the Local Government Association the private sector had often failed and had to be bailed out by government-run enterprises.

He finished his remarks by quipping: "I'm glad I've got that off my chest." But Mr Byers maintained the two were "saying exactly the same thing".

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