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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 12:56 GMT 13:56 UK

UK Politics

Two Jags does it again

John Prescott: Car trip to controversy

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Transport Secretary John Prescott is desperate to prove to motorists that he is not anti-car.

But to use two different motors to ferry him the 250 yards between the Labour party conference centre and his hotel is taking it a bit far.

And to snap back that he used the cars because "the wife doesn't like having her hair blown about" only made matters worse.

But Mr Prescott has a habit of saying and doing "inappropriate" things.

His short temper and tendency - now very much under control - to square up to anyone who got under his skin is legendary.

When Tony Blair became Labour leader and Mr Prescott was appointed his deputy they were instantly dubbed "Bambi and Thumper".

Most famously, some years ago Mr Prescott got into hot water after allegedly wagging an angry finger at Jim Callaghan in a Commons restaurant after the former Labour prime minister had said something he didn't like - there was much debate about whether he was holding a canteen knife at the time.

Two Jags

Now he is constantly reminded that, while he is the man responsible for getting people out of their cars and into public transport, he runs two Jaguars.

But "Two Jags" has now come up with the excuse that this proves that he is not anti-car. He even boasted about it in his speech to the Labour Party conference.

[ image: The crab called Peter]
The crab called Peter
A year ago he again put his foot in it when his dislike of Peter Mandelson surfaced during a photo opportunity at the site of the Millennium Dome.

Posing for cameramen with a crab floating in six inches of water in a jar he joked: "You know what his name is? He's called Peter. Do you think you will get on the executive Peter?"

Mr Mandelson was standing for election to Labour's ruling national executive committee at the time.

Earlier this year, Mr Prescott publicly disagreed with the prime minister over the government's attitude to the public services.

Mr Blair had complained of the "scars" he had suffered in pushing through modernising reforms in the sector.

The following day Mr Prescott stood up at a conference and heaped praise on the public services declaring at the end: "I'm glad I got that off my chest."

Split rumours

The words fuelled growing rumours of a split between Mr Prescott and Mr Blair over transport policy.

Mr Prescott had already blown his top over the "teenyboppers" in Downing Street who he believed were briefing against him.

Most recently he has come under attack for turning one lane of the M4 motorway into a bus lane.

Motorists claim that has led to delays, which Mr Prescott denies. But the issue deeply embarrassed the government when it emerged the prime minister used it to speed past a queue of traffic on the motorway.

But despite all the gaffes, Mr Prescott still retains the respect and support of grass roots Labour Party members.

It was only his impassioned speech to a previous conference that ensured the then leader John Smith was able to push through his reforms of the block vote.

And he has always been used by the leadership when they need to reassure activists that the party has not completely abandoned its old Labour heart - usually at the end of the party conference.

Interestingly, Mr Prescott is not doing his turn at the end of this week's conference.

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Prescott rejects car hypocrisy claims

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