Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Saturday, 11 February 2006

Two Jabs hits 'chameleon' Cameron

By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter, in Blackpool

So now we know.

After two months of agonised internal debate about how to deal with David Cameron, Labour has finally unveiled its strategy and unleashed the attack dogs, in the shape of John Prescott.

The Labour faithful cheered Mr Prescott to the rafters
The Labour faithful cheered Mr Prescott to the rafters

Mr Prescott gave the Conservative leader a vintage mauling - or should that be a verbal mangling - in his speech at the party's spring conference in Blackpool.

Fans of Prescottese were not disappointed as the deputy prime minister began by harking back to the bad old days when Labour had "single finger majorities".

"Just making sure you're not asleep," he joked, covering up the gaffe.

But it was not long before Two Jabs was launching a left hook at the real target.

Ahead of the conference, influential Blairite think tank Progress released a pamphlet detailing Labour's plan of attack for dealing with Mr Cameron.

It argues Cameron is an old-style Tory dressed up in New Labour's clothes, unfavourably comparing him to Tony Blair's friend and ally George W Bush - who it says was the "last Conservative to successfully seek election as a different kind of Conservative" when the reality was "tax cuts for the wealthiest, rising unemployment and a weaker safety net for the vulnerable".

It also took a swing at Mr Cameron's policy reviews, which it said are headed up by a "bunch of ex-Tory ministers".

Let me give Dave a little bit of advice, as he is a PR man, politics is not, despite what he thinks, only about image. I suspect that if it was I would not be the deputy prime minister
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott

And there were definite echoes of that document in Mr Prescott's speech.

He mocked Mr Cameron's attempts at repositioning the Conservative party.

"He claims he is a liberal. He claims he is New Labour Cameron. Environmental Cameron. Fox hunting Cameron. Fox hunting Cameron. Fox hunting! That's a Tory policy he's happy to stick with!

"He's like a rainbow when you think about it. The Yellow Cameron. The Red Cameron. The Green Cameron. The Blue Cameron.

"What we've got is Cameron the chameleon. He can change the colour of his skin at will but the political animal underneath is Conservative to the core.

"Let me give Dave a little bit of advice, as he is a PR man, politics is not, despite what he thinks, only about image. I suspect that if it was I would not be the deputy prime minister."

Old poison

He also took a swing at the former ministers drafted in to run Mr Cameron's policy reviews.

He spluttered with righteous indignation that a Tory would dare to talk about traditional Labour issues. "Compassionate Conservatives? Compassion? Social Justice? Don't make me laugh.

"They might call themselves compassionate and caring. But we know different. They change the label any time they like - but it's still the same old poison in the bottle."

But it was in the ad libs and asides that Mr Prescott got the biggest laughs, playing the class warrior card for all it was worth.

Class warfare

Adopting a comedy "posh" voice, he mocked "Dave" Cameron, "David to you and me" - and his privileged background - "Just an ordinary lad from Eton".

There was much talk of Cameron the "PR man", underlining the less than subtle implication of Mr Prescott's speech, that Mr Cameron is essentially an untrustworthy toff.

It is the sort of stuff New Labour was meant to have banished and Tony Blair could never get away with, being an ex-public schoolboy himself.

But judging from the reaction in the hall, it was exactly what the Labour faithful - reeling from a by-election defeat and still divided over school reforms - wanted to hear. They cheered Mr Prescott to the rafters.

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