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Thursday, 17 May, 2001, 05:57 GMT
Prescott sees red
John Prescott in scuffle in Wales
What will the future hold for Prescott?
Nick Assinder

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was under intense pressure on Wednesday night after he was involved in a punch-up during a campaign visit and effectively destroyed Labour's manifesto launch.

The man once branded Thumper to Tony Blair's Bambi was pictured apparently hitting a protester outside a campaign meeting after an egg was thrown at him.

A scuffle then broke out and Mr Prescott was wrestled onto his back before a man was arrested and taken away by police.


The deputy prime minister is infamous for his short fuse

The violent eruption brought to a close what was a disastrous day for Mr Blair and his campaign.

The prime minister had already been confronted by a voter furious at his record on the health service.

And Home Secretary Jack Straw had been jeered and slow-handclapped as he addressed the annual Police Federation conference in Blackpool.

Those troubles were bad enough for Mr Blair, who must have been appalled to realise they would overshadow his carefully-crafted election manifesto launch.

Discipline

But Mr Prescott's behaviour put the lid on it and ensured that Thursday's front pages would be dominated by these graphic images, with the manifesto relegated to the second news division.

Mr Blair has time and again lectured his MPs and ministers on the need for discipline during the election campaign.

John Prescott and protester
The last thing Tony Blair wanted
The entire Labour machine is focused on avoiding all potentially negative situations and presenting a united, serious image.

It was immediately claimed that Mr Prescott had acted as anyone would if they came under attack and that he had used reasonable force to protect himself.

And there was a hope in some quarters that most people would sympathise with Mr Prescott, who was attacked at extremely close range.

But in political terms it was the last thing Mr Blair wanted on what was supposed to be his big day.

Sensitive position

The deputy prime minister and ex-seaman is infamous for his short fuse and his political career has been littered with incidents related to his temper.

He once famously challenged former Labour prime minister Jim Callaghan in an angry outburst in a Commons tea-room.

And he would sometimes square up to opposition MPs who had attacked him in the chamber.

Most recently he appeared to have mellowed but the new incident will re-open all the old questions about him and his suitability for a sensitive political position.

He was already under a cloud because of his handling of the giant department for the environment, transport and the regions.

There has been widespread speculation that he would be dumped from his job if Mr Blair wins the next election. The latest incident seems to make that a near certainty.

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