Page last updated at 22:07 GMT, Monday, 4 August 2008 23:07 UK

Valid point but unfortunate metaphor

By David Thompson
Political correspondent, BBC News

John Prescott
Mr Prescott has defended the PM for the second time in two weeks

The former deputy prime minister, John Prescott, has weighed in to offer support to the prime minister for a second time, on this occasion comparing the Labour party to the Titanic.

In his Labour supporters' blog, he points out the ship was sunk by the iceberg, and not the captain.

As ever with John Prescott, you know exactly what he meant... it's just that the actual words have got in the way again.

The former deputy prime minister was undoubtedly trying to be helpful to Gordon Brown when he made the point that it wasn't the captain who sunk the Titanic, it was the iceberg which did the damage.

Ever the party loyalist, Mr Prescott was urging Labour to rally round its beleaguered skipper, put all the bickering, infighting and jockeying for position behind it and trust the prime minister to steer the ship of state into calmer waters.

Abandoning Prudence

All of which is fine, admirable and almost certainly music to Mr Brown's ears.

With the exception of John Denham, Harriet Harman and Alistair Darling at the weekend, senior party figures haven't exactly been rushing to his aid recently.

But the Titanic?

The Labour Party has been compared to many things.

This government has been called many, many names, but even its worst enemies have stopped short of likening it to the ship which was the victim of the world's most famous maritime disaster.

Also, I'm reliably informed by colleagues that actually, while the iceberg did have a starring role in the sinking of the Titanic, the captain, Edward John Smith, did play a pretty large part in causing the catastrophe by travelling too fast in an area known to be strewn with icebergs!

In short, some historians believe Captain Smith abandoned prudence, but I make no comment about that.

Door of 10 Downing Street being cleaned
Summer cleaning is taking place at Downing Street

What is clear is that if you are going to make nautical comparisons, the Titanic, on so many levels, is clearly the wrong way to go.

Now, apart from enlivening an otherwise dull Monday, does it really matter if John Prescott chooses an unfortunate metaphor to make a wider and valid point about the party he loves?

Well, a little bit.

Only the most paranoid of conspiracy theorists would think JP was having a sly dig at GB.

Cut the man and he bleeds Labour. He's a serial loyalist, faithful to the leader of his party, whoever that leader might be.

But what Mr Prescott has done is give the people he loathes most, the "clever dick" commentators and columnists in what he would describe as the right-wing media, the chance to have another pop at Labour and its leader.

If the Tories pick up on his imagery, he will cringe.

Gordon Brown has written about many of history's great leaders.

The man who led the Titanic into the iceberg isn't one of them.

Nor is he someone with whom the prime minister would wish to be compared - even by those who are only trying to help.


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