[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Sunday, 23 July 2006, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
After you, prime minister
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

John Prescott's latest remarks may have aimed to end doubts over his own future - but they have reignited intense speculation over Tony Blair's resignation.

Prescott on BBC One's Sunday AM
I think it will be a smooth transition... there will be a timetable decided by Tony and the party
John Prescott

And, in the wake of the deputy prime minister's comments on Sunday, attention has once again focused on this autumn's Labour conference in Manchester as the likely forum for the issue to be resolved once and for all.

Mr Prescott added to the speculation by suggesting leadership elections would come "very shortly". And he revealed, for the first time, that a timetable for the prime minister's departure would be set out to ensure the "orderly transition" of power.

Only last week the prime minister suggested he would still be in office in a year's time, and loyalists in Westminster have been insisting he will still be prime minister at the time of the 2007 party conference.

Similarly, Mr Blair and party bosses have slapped down any suggestion he should map out a timetable for his departure and the transition of power to his successor, still seen as Gordon Brown.

Stay or go

But Mr Prescott has now thrown all that into doubt during his first television interview since he was engulfed by a series of crises.

Prescott and Blair together
The pair's fortunes are joined
Giving a robust and defiant defence of his own position, Mr Prescott dismissed any suggestion he had acted improperly in his dealings with US Dome owner Philip Anshutz.

He accepted last week's report from standards watchdogs that he should have registered his stay at Mr Anshutz's ranch, but claimed he had done so 11 months late because "there was a change of the definition of hospitality".

That remark alone will raise a few eyebrows by opposition MPs who do not believe the rules changed, but that Mr Prescott registered the visit belatedly to soften any criticism of his behaviour.

But the comments which will draw the greatest scrutiny, particularly in Labour circles, were those concerning the prime minister's future.

When Mr Prescott was asked if he should resign his own job, he said he still had a role to play in the party and added: "The party has its means by which it can be making decisions about that. And I think that will come very shortly."

That can only relate to the party's annual opportunity to elect new leaders and deputies, if it so chooses, at the party conference.

And with Mr Prescott's future so closely linked to Mr Blair's - both have suggested they stay or go together - that raised immediate speculation that he was talking about elections for the top two jobs, possibly even as soon as this year's conference.

Sitting duck

Mr Prescott said he wanted and expected to see a leadership election to give "sufficient time" for Mr Blair's successor to settle into the job before the next election.

Prescott on BBC One's Sunday AM
Mr Prescott outlines his position

And he added: "Therefore there will be a timetable which will be decided by Tony and the party".

That comment added to speculation that the prime minister does now envisage setting out a specific time for the handover to his successor with a date for his own resignation.

Such a move has previously been rejected by party bosses on the grounds the moment any timetable was announced, the prime minister would immediately become a lame duck facing opposition demands for him to go straight away.

Precisely how such a timetable would work is unclear, but there has been some chatter in Westminster that the prime minister could call a special one-off leadership election conference some time next spring with a short period afterwards before the successor officially takes over the reins.

Alternatively there are those who still believe the election should come at this year's Manchester conference.

What is certainly the case is that Mr Prescott has thrown a new factor into the equation and this speculation - along with continuing questions over his own future - may well run right through a long hot summer.

Nick.Assinder-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch John Prescott on Sunday AM



RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific