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Thursday, 17 May, 2001, 17:05 GMT

The Campaign Today with Nick Robinson

It's Thursday in the second week of the campaign. Join Nick Robinson as he goes in hunt of the issues, throughout the day.

Last updated at 6pm
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Sometimes some things make magic television but bad newspapers front pages, and the other way round. But this John Prescott story is great for us all.

Today's front pages showed that Fleet Street was having enormous fun. Both the Mirror and the Sun at one stage were both going to have the front page headline "Two Jabs", but the Mirror changed its line, wanting to get one up on its rival, with the headline ManiFISTo instead.

What's fascinating is to see how the papers split in the way I suspect the public is splitting too. You either think "Good on him, good old John Prescott", or you think "It's disgraceful behaviour for a man in his position." I don't think we'll ever know what the country as a whole thinks about it, though.

Tony Blair obviously decided to take it on the chin this morning (slightly unfortunate metaphor to use in the circumstances). But he also decided to make light of it.

Now his spin doctors deny this passionately, but there's no doubt that with a light touch, a sense of humour, David Blunkett even throwing a mock punch, that they thought this was the best approach.

They're using a formula every time they're asked about it which is that "It was regrettable, it was an instinctive reaction, John will be John". The problem with that line, of course, is that's exactly the phrasing that's often used by the mothers of thugs who are up in magistrates' courts.

But I think Labour's calculation is this: the story will move on, people will make their own minds up. As long as John Prescott isn't hauled in by the police, they can move on from this.


Well Andy that point was actually put directly to Tony Blair this morning by Andrew Marr of the BBC. And Tony Blair said he would give that assurance that he would speak to ordinary voters again.

He says that we're saying that events are stage managed that aren't, and that often those people in those audiences asking questions that you see on TV or online are real people, they're businessmen or doctors, who do put some tough questions.

The difficulty they've got now is a security issue. My sources in the Labour Party say local police forces are likely to want more distance between the politicians and the ordinary punters. The difficulty for the police, of course, is distinguishing the people who want to throw eggs, or who want to get into a fight, and those like Mrs Storer who just want to make their point passionately.

Let's hope above hope that this election doesn't get more stage managed rather than less.


Two big questions of today. The one being debated in bars and offices and factories is: "Was it good for him, or shame on him?" The other question here at Westminster is what if any political impact this will have.

My bet is not much impact on Labour. But it's another nail in the coffin of John Prescott's hopes to play a major role in the next Labour government if there is one.

He's too important a symbol to Tony Blair to lose his largely ceremonial title of deputy prime minister. But I don't think he'll end up with much power to go with that. Of course if the police investigation raises any problems for the man they once called "Thumper" (to Tony Blair's "Bambi"), all bets are off.

Concerned about real people getting involved in the election? I've got an idea for you - let me know how you do! (Click to listen)

You may have seen or heard stories about Labour spin doctors trying to plant questions with ego-driven journalists at yesterday's manifesto launch.

I've read reports that they tried to nobble me. Of course I never name my sources, but I can state categorically that offers were being made that if you agreed to ask the right question, you'd be among the first few to catch Tony Blair's eye.

I don't think anyone fell for it - though you can never be sure. But I find it almost beyond belief that Labour tried it on.

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