Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 16:20 UK

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

John Prescott
Is Mr Prescott's description of the prime minister a bit rich?

"Oh, Mr Porter, what shall I do?
I wanted to go to Birmingham
And you put me off at Crewe!"

Chaos still reigns on the rail system just like in the days of that old music hall song.

There must have been a lot of angry Crewe-bound Labour MPs at Euston station on Thursday.

Not only were they being dispatched across the country to campaign in a very difficult by-election, they then got stranded in severe travel delays to the north west of England.

They might have been even more frustrated on arrival had they seen the beaming face of David Cameron at a photo-op in the cab of a train at Crewe's rail freight yard.

Asked how it felt to be at the controls, and whether as a boy he wanted to be an engine driver, he replied: "Actually I wanted to be a lorry driver." Do they do HGV courses at Eton then?

On the campaign trail with the Conservatives and the other parties was my colleague Shaun Ley.

Mother's girl?

You can hear his report on this fascinating by-election on The World This Weekend on Sunday at 1300 BST, which includes the Labour candidate Tamsin Dunwoody's blatant attempt to distance herself from the national party.

She said: "I actually sit there in the morning when I have my quiet cup of tea, and I think do they really know what'll hit them if I get elected? 'Cos they thought my Mum was bad - they haven't met me".

You can see why she wants to stress her independence after this week. There were all those torrid memoirs which, the uber-loyal Cabinet minister Hazel Blears told us, made ordinary party members very angry.

I was amused to hear John Prescott's description of Gordon Brown as "frustrating, annoying, bewildering and prickly".

Talk about pot and kettle. I can remember ringing the deputy prime minister once and getting a stream of four-letter words before I had barely opened my mouth.

'Bad moment'

A very embarrassed private secretary called me back to explain that I had caught him "at a bad moment".

For years and years Mr Prescott and many other Labour politicians have berated journalists for reducing politics to feuds and tittle-tattle.

Yet when it comes to selling their own stories, the private battles end up being far more lurid than anything journalists cook up.

In fact one former Number 10 insider told me this week that Cherie Blair's memoirs could have been far worse. I'm not sure that will be a crumb of comfort for Gordon Brown.

The Labour leader will be hoping that the changes on tax and the draft Queen's speech will help him regain political momentum.

But if he loses Crewe, no doubt talk about his leadership will resurface.


The governor of the Bank of England's gloomy forecast about the end of the "nice" decade won't help (by the way, nice means "non-inflationary continual expansion").

There is plotting going on, talk of rebels "coalescing".

Some argue that the party rules are irrelevant - enough MPs signing a letter or a cabinet revolt would be enough to force Mr Brown to go.

Wouldn't younger politicians prefer to wait and see what happens in the next election, I asked one plotter - let the PM take the blame if there's a defeat?

Ah, he replied, the party would be so devastated by then, it would be out of power for a generation.

It does seem pretty unlikely at the moment that Mr Brown will face a challenge but the fact that these conversations are going on just goes to show how apocalyptic the mood is in the Labour Party these days.

I bet there was plenty of alcohol consumed on that long, long journey to Crewe.

Here are some of your comments:

I have never emailed on the back of an article such as this before but I wanted to add my support to your comments about Mr Prescott and Mrs Blair. I think they have both proven by the timing of their book releases that when it comes down to what is really valued by them both, money comes first and not what they claim over years to have believed in, the Labour party. I don't think either of them, particularly Mr Prescott ever had anyone thinking any differently about them but non the less, sod their beloved Labour party - money rules! Good article.
Andrew Morton, Swindon

I'm not a big fan of ministers et al producing memoirs, but surely former ministers have the right to tell their own stories and sell their memoirs to the highest bidder? They're there to detail the ups and downs after their time has gone. Journalists are supposed to report news, factual news of interest, not gossip. Until that happens, journalists should not attempt to take the moral high ground.
James McLaughlin, Stone, Staffordshire

If you want an insightful memoir, an enlightening look at being in government and opposition, and a detailed history of the Labour Party for the last fifty years, read Tony Benn's books. Next to them, these memoirs are just the tawdry gossip columns of yesterday's politicians, digging their claws into the last of their club to still be in a position of power.
Jonathan, London, UK

I have been very disappointed in the quality of the campaign so far - all any of the candidates seem to want to do is bad-mouth the opposition, rather than try to sell their own ideas. Dunwoody seems to be the worst, with personal attacks on Timpson as well as on the Conservative Party, but all Timpson can do is say nasty things about the Labour Party.
Megan, Crewe & Nantwich

Re memoirs, it's amazing - and disappointing - how people who one might have hoped cared more about the long term future of the Labour Party appear so ready to damage it by playing out personal agendas in public. When the going gets tough - as the local election results show it is - it requires everyone to get the wagons in a circle, not to run off in various directions saying how awful things are. Apocalyptic predictions are from the Corporal Jones school of crisis management. If Labour holds its nerve, explains itself clearly, and does what it promises then electoral success will follow.
Richard Mollet, Chiddingfold, South West Surrey

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