John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, yesterday celebrated the "best conference I can ever remember", delighting delegates with a lively mixture of humour and rallying oratory.
In a novel use of props, Mr Prescott flourished a pork pie (rhyming slang for lie) as he attacked a Daily Express article claiming he was "spitting blood" at another snub by Tony Blair and his inner circle.
Departing from the text to challenge John Craig, the paper's political editor, to apologise, Mr Prescott declared: "There are lies, damned lies and the Daily Express. It is the only paper that still grovels to Tory Central Office." In another unscripted manoeuvre, Mr Prescott, accompanied by his wife, Pauline, followed up his speech by personally delivering Mr Craig a second pork pie, complete with a blue label, reading "Tory Party Pork Pie", in the press room.
The article claimed Mr Prescott was furious that Peter Mandelson, MP for Hartlepool and a close colleague of Mr Blair, was to be interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme instead of him.
Mr Craig said: "We stand by our story 100 per cent. John Prescott says one thing in public. He and his friends say entirely different things in private."
Away from the acrimony, delegates took a cue from Mr Blair and gave their deputy leader a standing ovation before his rallying call, as well as a thunderous ovation afterwards.
Applauding as Mr Prescott declared they could be proud to be a democratic socialist party but never a complacent one, they laughed loudly as he made a string of jokes at the expense of the Conservative Party.
"Lord Tebbit of Telecom was telling Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, to get on his bike and back Labour," bawled Mr Prescott. "One thing about the Tories, they never allow politics to get in the way of their business, do they?"
Drawing roars of laughter with a spirited attack on Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, he said: "He's the Kama Sutra of the Conservative Party. He's been in every position - except No 10.'' "Sorry mum," he added.
There was more mirth to come with Mr Prescott's account of this summer's Cabinet reshuffle.
The negotiations were about who got Humphrey the cat. "Poor Humphrey, he didn't know if he was coming or going. One day, he was enjoying a quiet life with John and Norma, and the next there was Heseltine, barging into Major's office through the cat-flap, rampaging through the kitchen, knocking over the milk."
But Mr Prescott had a serious message for John Major too: "Go back to your constituency and prepare for opposition."Reuse content