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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006, 20:57 GMT 21:57 UK
Profile: John Prescott
John Prescott is known for his pugnacious style
John Prescott has given his critics further ammunition
Deputy prime minister John Prescott, a man fiercely proud of his working class roots, has always been disdainful of the mega rich.

So news that he has met would-be super-casino owner Philip Anschutz seven times and stayed at his Colorado ranch overnight, have played into the hands of his critics inside and outside the Labour Party.

Mr Anschutz owns The Dome, one of a number of sites short-listed for the casino.

Mr Prescott insists the issue was never discussed and the pair instead concentrated on the post-sale use of The Dome, as well as a shared interest in ex-Hull MP and slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce, on whom Mr Anschutz is making a film.

But the deputy prime minister is already politically damaged.

His affair with diary secretary Tracey Temple resulted in the scaling down of his job in May's Cabinet reshuffle.

While he kept his salary, an apartment at London's Admiralty House and other perks, he felt compelled to give up his grace and favour country pile Dorneywood after being pictured on its lawns playing croquet with his staff.

A frenzy of editorials have demanded: "Just what is John Prescott for?"

The answer: He now chairs nine Cabinet committees and deputises for Tony Blair on seven others. He will soon be running the country while Mr Blair takes his summer break.

Marlon Brando?

There is a sharp divide between those who see Mr Prescott as an effective political player able to knock heads together and cut deals across Whitehall, and the critics who deride him as a syntax-deprived waste of space.

Those searching for clues about the real John Prescott would learn much from a candid radio interview given by the deputy prime minister earlier this year.

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

Steward-turned-student: Prescott during his Ruskin College days
Steward-turned-student: Prescott during his Ruskin College days

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".

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

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 still grates even today - 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

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

He entered Parliament in 1970, a Bennite class-warrior, joined Labour's shadow cabinet as a transport spokesman in 1979.

Perhaps his greatest claim to fame came in 1993 when he called for the end to the union block vote and was credited with saving the then Labour 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 - including 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.

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

His mantra was clear and unwavering - Labour had to show "traditional values in a modern setting". Mr Prescott's role as a power-broker and 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 suggest he thought Tony Blair should make way for his successor sooner rather than later.

His original title was 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.

In his environment role - which was later hived off into a separate department - he was a key player in agreeing Kyoto Protocol on climate change in 1997.

But his dream of directly elected regional assemblies hit the rocks in 2004 when the North East voted against the idea in a referendum.

Verbal slip-ups

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.

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 Mr Blair has found Mr Prescott a loyal deputy - and losing him could force a damaging contest for the deputy leadership.




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