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Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Profile: John Prescott
John Prescott is known for his pugnacious style
John Prescott is known for his pugnacious style
The news that John Prescott will remain as deputy prime minister but will be stripped of many responsibilities follows a tough few days for the Yorkshireman.

The revelation of Mr Prescott's affair with his diary secretary cast light on the life of a hugely influential and driven man, whose passion for politics has taken him to within a heartbeat of Number 10.

Those searching for clues about the real John Prescott would learn much from a candid radio interview given by the deputy prime minister a few weeks ago.

Speaking on the Bristol community station, Radio 19, Mr Prescott discussed music, films and, perhaps most tellingly of all, the trauma of his parents' divorce.

An iPod-user, he praised Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit, Fairground by Simply Red and The Jam's A Town Called Malice, from his favourite film, Billy Elliot.

He also revealed that a young Marlon Brando - and not Hugh Grant - would be the best person to play him in a film version of his life.

Steward-turned-student: Prescott during his Oxford days
Steward-turned-student: Prescott during his Oxford days

And he admitted that, following his parents' break-up, "my mother wanted me to hang my father and say all sorts of things about him, but I would not do that."

Clearly, those who dismiss Mr Prescott as a boorish and aggressive throwback to a long-gone working-class image of masculinity do a disservice to an obviously complex, highly-motivated, maybe even subtle, political player.

He may have a bluff Yorkshire manner, but Mr Prescott was actually born in Prestatyn, North Wales, in 1938, the son of a railwayman.

His childhood was neither affluent nor deprived. Indeed, the Prescott family won 1,000 as the winners of a competition to find the "most typical British family of 1951".

Class-warrior

He failed the 11-plus - something which, even today, affects him greatly - and attended Ellesmere Port Secondary Modern before joining the Merchant Navy, where he worked as a ship's steward during the last days of the great ocean liners.

Among those he served was a former prime minister, Sir Anthony Eden. And, though the wages - including generous tips from passengers - were very good, it brought home to Prescott the reality of the class divide.

His close emotional identification with Billy Elliot - he has seen the film six times - runs deep. He told one interviewer, "This lad Billy rose up against the prejudices of his community and against the very structure of that community and said, 'This is what I am. This is how I want to live my life.'

"He had to fight with all the love he had for his family and his community to be true to himself. And yes, that moved me. It made me cry."

Passionate orator

And John Prescott the fighter, honed by his time as a shop steward in the National Union of Seamen and a spell at Ruskin College, Oxford, soon made his mark on the national stage.

He entered parliament in 1970, a Bennite class-warrior, joined Labour's shadow cabinet as an effective transport spokesman in 1979 and became a party grandee in 1993 after calling for the end to the union block vote, to save the party's then leader, John Smith, from a humiliating defeat.

Fighting back: Prescott scuffles with a demonstrator in 2001
Fighting back: Prescott scuffles with a demonstrator in 2001
But his lack of education, and taunts from the Conservative benches - usually Nicholas Soames' "Mine's a gin and tonic, Giovanni, and would you ask my friend what he's having?" - left Prescott with a hatred of the Tories which still lingers today.

After Smith's death Mr Prescott's star rose further - deputy leader in 1994, deputy PM three years later.

And his mantra was clear and unwavering: "You have to remember you still have to convince people, that a lot of people vote Labour because of their traditional values.

"You have to carry the two together. I still believe in that general maxim: Labour's traditional values in a modern setting. Don't forget either part."

Mr Prescott's role as a power-broker and wise counsellor has smoothed the often strained relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

And his 2004 assertion, that "the tectonic plates appear to be moving" within the government, seemed to crystallise his current view that Tony Blair should make way for his successor sooner rather than later.

Under his original title, deputy prime minister and first secretary of state for environment, transport and the regions - "the only minister with a job title bigger than his vocabulary," according to Sir Norman Fowler - Mr Prescott wielded vast influence over housing, planning and local government.

Today, his portfolio is more limited, covering housing, local government, regeneration, planning and urban and regional issues.

More importantly, though, he chairs a number of key Cabinet committees, including those on domestic, and constitutional, affairs.

But Mr Prescott's reputation for hot-headedness remains.

The man who said in 1994: "I don't pursue vendettas or punch people on the nose," lit-up the dull 2001 general election by, well, punching a man sort-of on the nose.

And his nickname "Two Jags" was only topped by a 1991 driving ban for speeding and a 1997 fine for the same offence.

Verbal slip-ups

Then there is his singular verbal style.

"The green belt is a Labour achievement, and we mean to build on it," he told one reporter. After a rough flight, Mr Prescott quipped "It's great to be back on terra cotta."

And he once described government transport policy thus: "We are now taking proper, putting the amount of resources and investment to move what we call extreme conditions which must now regard as normal."

The prime minister once told a Labour conference, "Would I need a bloke with a stick and a pig's bladder when I have John Prescott?"

But, with his deputy mired in scandal, Tony Blair must be hoping that this most loyal of colleagues will quickly return to the political stage.





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