A punch-up with a drunk? Could be a job for Prescott

Tom Peck on the Police Commissioner campaign trail in Hull
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The Independent Online

Subtract the three union officials, nine local party members and the city's three Labour MPs – including the former Home Secretary Alan Johnson – and the total crowd at John Prescott's crime commissioner rally is hovering dangerously near the zero mark.

To make matters worse, the campaign team have affixed their huge, yellow banners – "Save Our Police (Wrong Cuts, Wrong Time)" – to the outside wall of the ladies' public toilets in Hull's Queen Victoria Square, and the leaflet-wielding Labour activists are dispensing their literature less than a foot from the entrance.

"Would you mind reading this madam?" one of them asks a passing shopper in her sixties. "I don't want a leaflet," comes the response. "I want a wee."

Baron Prescott of Kingston-upon-Hull in the County of East Yorkshire, now in his 75th year, doesn't look amused. Another passer-by stops to take a photo and asks: "Why have they put you by the bogs, John? Are you going to clean up crime and the ladies' toilets? That I would vote for."

Critics say the country's first-ever police and crime commissioner elections today have failed to excite the public. But on a bitterly cold morning yesterday, the Labour candidate for Humberside came perilously close to the second fist fight of his political career.

Lord Prescott's manifesto promises to introduce a "late-night levy" on problem pubs to "take back our town centres from drunken thugs". It's an issue that could hardly be more relevant, as he is interrupted by a man in a baseball cap, visibly drunk at 11am, who breaks through the small crowd to raise two fingers and shout: "You don't do f*** all."

"Oh yeah? Come here and say something," is Lord Prescott's reply. "We've got to do something about you lads. This is the case with the problem round here." "I'm not a problem. You're the f****** problem," comes the reply. "You don't f****** do nowt."

Karl Turner, the MP for Hull East, tries to drag the man off, but is stopped in his tracks. "Leave him, leave him, leave him alone, he's one of the problems I've got to deal with."

Eventually he's led away, to some gentle derision from the candidate: "Thanks very much. You've just made my point. I promise you I didn't pay him to come."

The man comes back for another go, not realising he is trying to force his way past the imposing figure of former Humberside Police Chief Superintendent Keith Hunter, there in support of Lord Prescott.

Concerns have been voiced that the elections will politicise the police force, a subject which Labour doesn't duck. "These elected commissioners will have a fair amount of power," Alan Johnson told i. "The power to hire and fire the Chief Constable for a start. The power to decide the budget. Now we wish these elections weren't happening, but we are at least trying to elect people – our candidates – who will act in an apolitical way."

Not, evidently, as far as Lord Prescott is concerned. "There are 30 million people voting tomorrow," he tells the crowd [with turnout expected to be around 18 per cent, less than a sixth of that number are likely to do so]. This is not just about the police. This is a referendum on everything this incompetent government has done so far. On the health, on the education, on the local authorities. Don't tax the millionaires. Cut resources. Reduce wages."

Next up are his own, very personal issues with the press, at which point he holds up a copy of The Sun and segues into fluent Prescottian: "If the police want to cut crime, close the bloody Sun down because they're committing the crime, they're bribing the police, they're tapping the phones. And they were in Liverpool as well, not just the Met area. They were in Yorkshire as well. Do you remember that terrible tragedy at Hillsbury? [sic] It was The Sun that came out for the illegal. They didn't think it was illegal. They were the ones that supported it. That's why they don't buy The Sun in Liverpool."

Lord Prescott has campaigned hard across a constituency with more than 700,000 voters, and he is likely to win – but with a very limited mandate, at least according to Alan Johnson. "John deserves an award for standing in this election. Without him nobody would know these elections were happening. But this wasn't in the Conservatives' manifesto, nor the Lib Dems'. No one voted for this. People won't turn out. If there were a place on the ballot form that said, 'none of the above because I oppose the concept', I'm sure that would win across the country.

"If the turnout is under 20 per cent, people will need to make the next four years a consultation about doing the whole thing again. If it hasn't got public backing, why are we ploughing away at something that's not working?"