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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006, 22:48 GMT 23:48 UK
Prescott moves to end 'nightmare'
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

John Prescott's decision to give up his grace-and-favour mansion is an attempt to finally end a nightmare few weeks which have seen his future as deputy prime minister called into serious doubt.

John Prescott
Mr Prescott is said to be planning a series of high profile events

In his announcement - which came on the day he celebrated his 68th birthday - Mr Prescott said he accepted the continuing controversy over his Dorneywood perk was getting in the way of him doing his job.

It appears he also plans a series of high profile events over the coming days to demonstrate just what that job now is.

He has come under fire from several quarters, including a number of senior Labour MPs, over his determination to hang on to his deputy prime minister's salary, homes and other perks despite having his department taken away from him in Tony Blair's recent reshuffle.

But no sooner had the announcement been made than questions were being raised about whether this "sacrifice" was too little, too late.

It was also being suggested that the prime minister had been in contact with his deputy from his Italian holiday retreat to order him to give up the Buckinghamshire mansion in an attempt to limit the damage being done to his own position.

'No reason'

What Mr Prescott certainly appears to have confirmed, in an interview with the Guardian newspaper, is the persistent rumour - said by some to have originated from Downing Street - that Mr Blair had originally asked him to give up Dorneywood at the time of the reshuffle and warned him of the likely consequences if he refused - which he did.

I am well aware that my use of it is now a subject of public controversy and criticism and a matter of concern amongst some MPs and the Labour Party

In the same interview, Mr Prescott is also quoted as saying that, before he was photographed playing croquet with staff in the grounds of the house, he saw no reason to give it up.

"A month ago I did not see why I should leave it.

"It was for deputy prime ministers' use, my wife and I enjoyed it. It was restful and, as we found on holiday, a place where you couldn't get bugged."

However, he now believes the security of the residence has gone, stating: "It means that if I walk around that open lawn listening to music on my iPod I'll be thinking about the cameras.

"I will forever then believe there will be another photograph in the Daily Mail or another paper saying 'here's Prescott lording it again'.

"It would never be relaxing again."

'Latest crisis'

In the same interview Mr Prescott again insisted he would not be pushed out of his job, and claimed he was being attacked as a way of getting at Tony Blair.

It certainly seems likely that the prime minister had become worried that the attacks on Mr Prescott were further damaging both him and the government after a series of setbacks over recent weeks.

The Tories are already claiming the episode is just the latest example of how the government has become out of touch with voters

But the question still remains whether his move, combined with a defiant attitude, will be enough to end the sniping.

Much of the criticism aimed at him has been over his affair with his secretary and his refusal to give up his perks and salary after losing his department.

And some of those who have been attacking him believe simply giving up Dorneywood, particularly as it appears to have been a reluctant decision, is not enough.

But what will be worrying Tony Blair most is the image of a government that seems to be stumbling from one crisis or scandal to another.

The Tories are already claiming the episode is just the latest example of how the government has become out of touch with voters and is past its shelf life.

And, with the Commons still in recess, it will be some days before it becomes clear whether Mr Prescott's decision will be enough to end the latest crisis.

Nick.Assinder-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


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