Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Saturday, 31 May 2008 14:26 UK

Prescott hails 'leader' Miliband

John Prescott
Mr Prescott admitted scrapping the 10p tax rate had "caused problems"

John Prescott has hailed David Miliband - said to be Labour's strongest alternative to Gordon Brown - as "brilliant" and a future leader.

The ex-deputy prime minister told a Hay Festival crowd the foreign secretary had "great ability".

But he insisted Mr Brown was the "best man" to steer the country out of its present economic difficulties.

He warned critics of the prime minister they might "pay a heavy price if you don't get behind your leader".

'Written off'

Mr Miliband is the bookmakers' favourite to succeed Mr Brown as Labour leader, and speculation has grown in the wake of the party's Crewe and Nantwich by-election defeat that the prime minister would face a challenge.

Speaking on the eve of his 70th birthday, Mr Prescott told the festival audience he had long ago backed the future foreign secretary to succeed when he discussed the topic with the then prime minister, Tony Blair.

I felt like I let everybody down
John Prescott on his affair with Tracey Temple

He said of Mr Miliband: "He is quite a brilliant man and he will be one of our leaders.

"I said to Tony, why don't you put him with me as a minister as he has great ability?"

But Mr Prescott warned against any attempt to displace Mr Brown, arguing the experiences of the 1970s and the 1980s had taught him that the party could not win elections when it was divided.

Mr Prescott said: "People have written off the Labour Party time and time again over the last 18 years.

"That is not to say we haven't got a difficult situation - we have. People have given us a good kicking and you can't ignore that."

But while he admitted that scrapping the 10p tax rate had "caused problems", he said high food and petrol prices were not the fault of the government.

He added: "Gordon is the best man to deal with these problems."

'A disgrace'

Mr Prescott also spoke frankly about his battle against the eating disorder bulimia.

He said: "There is an assumption that it is girls that get it and weak men get it.

"Well, you could never put me in the category of weak men. I hope by opening up we can have a debate about it."

Asked about his affair with diary secretary Tracey Temple, Mr Prescott admitted: "I felt like I let everybody down."

He said he hoped Mr Blair would use his role as middle east envoy to help bring peace to the Middle East.

He added: "I don't mind who plays a part as long as we get justice for Palestine.

"It is a disgrace that it has gone on so long."

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