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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2006, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Prescott refuses to budge
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

It was classic Prescott - full of anger, passion, defiance and bluster.

The Dome
Dome area needs regeneration
It wasn't always possible to work out precisely what he was saying in his BBC interview, but there was never any doubt about what he meant.

Put simply, it amounted to the following, unrepentant defence of his position.

American billionaire Philip Anschutz should be thanked for his plans to rescue the Millennium Dome and re-generate East London with new homes, jobs and enterprise.

"If a man asks to see me, if he comes offering that, I will see him every three months," Mr Prescott said.

He had completely excluded himself from any decisions on the sale of the dome or Mr Anschutz's plans for a super casino on the site despite the fact that some of those responsibilities lay directly with his department and his officials had been closely involved with them.

Specifically, he rejected claims his department had put pressure on Southend Council to withdraw its application for a casino licence, to ensure there was only one contender from the Thames Gateway region.

"I wasn't involved in any way. Categorically I can say that. In no way did I express an opinion, as I hear it is being reported in the papers, that I was supporting some link for the tender. Absolute rubbish. Not involved. Very clear about it," he said.

Cowboy films

His stay at the businessman's US ranch was perfectly above board and part of a working visit to the US to discuss agriculture and international trade, he said.

Philip Anschutz
Mr Anschutz is a big investor
"That is why I took that opportunity, probably not only to look at a working cattle ranch but to visit one. I am curious about it. I saw the cowboy films over my young years, I was interested to have a look at it," he said.

The Tories and sections of the media, helped by some internet blogs, were out to get him.

"I know there is a media storm against me. They don't like me and to be honest, I don't like them," he said.

He is sorry for any damage stories about him have cause his party but he is getting on with his job and has absolutely no intention of resigning.

And, finally, he has apologised for his affair with his diary secretary but is not responding to blog allegations he has had other affairs which, he pointed out, have been made without any evidence to substantiate them.

"There is no truth in much of the stories that are made in the papers," he said.

Ministerial code

So far so good. But, perhaps inevitably, the opposition parties do not believe he has satisfactorily answered their questions.

John Prescott
John Prescott met businessman seven times
Liberal Democrat Don Foster and Tory Andrew Robathan both continued to ask whether it was conceivable Mr Prescott had met Mr Anschutz seven times to discuss regeneration of the Dome area without ever talking about plans for a super casino.

And they have kept pressing for the prime minister to ask watchdog Sir John Bourn to investigate whether Mr Prescott broke the ministerial code.

That code states ministers should not only avoid any conflict of interest, but creating the impression of one. That, it is argued, is precisely what Mr Prescott failed to do.

So far, however, Mr Blair has not sought that investigation although the Parliamentary Commissioner, Sir Philip Mawer, is investigating the deputy prime minister's visit to the businessman's ranch, which he initially failed to enter in the MPs' register of interests.

But, equally, there are no signs this particular storm is anywhere near blowing itself out.

And, while Mr Prescott remains defiant, it remains uncertain for just how much longer he and the prime minister can withstand such a distraction.

Nick.Assinder-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk




SEE ALSO
Prescott's mounting problems
05 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Q&A: Prescott's troubles
06 Jul 06 |  UK Politics

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