Page last updated at 10:52 GMT, Sunday, 25 May 2008 11:52 UK

Brown best for Britain - Prescott

Iain Watson
Political correspondent, BBC News

John Prescott with Gordon Brown
John Prescott said he used to be accused of not smiling too

In his memoirs, he called Gordon Brown "frustrating, annoying, bewildering and prickly" but on Sunday John Prescott was extolling the prime minister's virtues.

Since Labour's defeat at the Crewe by-election most of the cabinet members who had spoken out on the prime minister's behalf had been his close allies - those who were previous members of Gordon Brown's staff before becoming MPs - Douglas Alexander, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband.

Other cabinet members insist there was not a conspiracy of silence on their behalf - at a conference call on Friday they had decided not to rush to the airwaves calling for unity in case that had the opposite effect - it might look panicky and suggest the party was divided in defeat.

'Kick up the backside'

No doubt they had in mind the supposedly helpful statement made by Labour's general secretary in the early 1980s that Michael Foot is still leader of the Labour party - exposing by implication that some MPs wanted him dislodged.

But there is little doubt that the prime minister will be relieved to hear such weighty endorsement from John Prescott - the man who had done so much to keep the wheels from falling off the Blair-Brown bandwagon during their backroom disputes.

Miserable beggar - perhaps I did look a bit like that - but I can't help my face
John Prescott

Speaking to Andrew Marr on BBC One, he acknowledged in his inimitable plain-speaking style that the Crewe by-election and the English and Welsh local elections were "a kick up the backside" but thought the idea that Gordon Brown should step aside was "nonsense" - voter discontent was all about "the economy, stupid" and when that recovered so should Labour's fortunes.

He said: "Gordon Brown's the best man to deal with the economy - basically he knows what needs to be done."

And he then addressed questions of the prime minister's character: "When I hear he doesn't smile, well, they used to talk about me not smiling, miserable beggar - perhaps I did look a bit like that, but I can't help my face, but I tell you what, when you get on an aeroplane if you go and look in the cockpit, see if the pilot's smiling or you just hope there's a pilot there who's going to fly the plane and land successfully."

He did however admit the Labour plane was experiencing bumpy weather.

And it's fair to say his own political career has been somewhat turbulent. He spoke again of how he handled, or failed to handle the pressure of office and talked of his eating disorder.

John Prescott backs Gordon Brown as leader of the country

Given that John Prescott is a weighty figure - bodily as well as politically- Andrew Marr suggested he might be one of the least successful bulimics.

But Mr Prescott said that weight gain can be a symptom of the condition and that he was delighted to have received letters of support following the revelations in his memoirs.

He also said he intended to continue to encourage people to have tests for diabetes, another condition from which he suffers.

Given this new reputation for openness, his endorsement of Gordon Brown is all the more significant as voters are unlikely to think that John Prescott is the sort of politician who says one thing in public and quite another in private.

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