Election '97: Prescott under fire from party faithful

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The Independent Online
Disaffected Labour supporters yesterday protested to John Prescott that Labour's campaign was focused too much on the concerns of middle-class former Tory voters instead of traditional Labour party values for protecting the poor and disadvantaged.

The deputy Labour Party leader robustly defended his party's election strategy on BBC Election Call with Peter Sissons, but Mr Prescott is expected to relay their concerns to the campaign team led by Gordon Brown at Millbank Towers, the party election headquarters.

Voter concern at Labour's failure to campaign more on its positive policies for improving public services, and the lack of passion in Labour's campaign has become an issue on the doorsteps, and was recorded by Steve Richards, the commentator, in this week's New Statesman, who concludes that it will not stop Labour winning a big Commons majority.

Peter Cherry, from Lincoln, said he had resigned from the party last week because Labour had accepted Tory tax rates and spending levels, while the Liberal Democrats were proposing an extra 1p on tax to improve education. "The Liberals are coming up with the right taxes. They are going to put a 50p threshold on [top rate]. That is what you should be doing."

Anne Booth, from Rochester, said she had become a Labour Party member within the past six months, but was "terribly disappointed" with the campaign it was running as it failed to focus on the homeless, asylum-seekers who are held in a local jail, and children in poverty.

Under fire from the callers, Mr Prescott was challenged by Mr Sissons: "As an old Labour man, how do you feel about these calls for more help from pensioners, doctors, from teachers? They are all unhappy about the level of resources pledges - if any have been pledged at all."

Mr Prescott said Labour would be improving things for health, pensioners, crime and education by a different order of priorities. "But we have one very real problem. We do not know what the extent of the crisis in the public finances is ... Their [the Tories'] projections of the borrowing requirements have always been pounds 10bn-pounds 15bn out. You can't accept their figures . I don't believe anything this Government says. We have to be realistic and practical.

"Its not an easy decision, but I tell you what we are not going to do - we are not going to bang our chest and say we are socialists and all this has got to be done. The people don't believe it. We have lost four elections because they [the voters] want to see a Labour government that is realistic, knows what its priorities are, and where its money is coming from."

Five years on, voter who is still fuming

One of Mr Prescott's inquisitors was Joyce Elliott from Hereford - a name which rang Labour alarm bells, because she rattled Tony Blair on the subject of the minimum wage on the same programme in 1992, writes John Rentoul.

Five years on, she was still fuming that a minimum wage would force her to make redundancies at her nursery, only this time "Labour haven't had the guts to set out what it would be".

She then turned her attack unexpectedly to what became a familiar refrain on the programme yesterday, that "you have prostituted yourselves to Tory policies" and "abandoned everything that people could believe in".

She described herself as a socialist from Jarrow, but refused to say how she would vote. When she spoke to The Independent later she said she "couldn't stand" Mr Blair five years ago, when he was Labour's employment spokesman. She had warmed to him, but recently had been put off because "he just will not answer a question - they should have a chameleon for their mascot not a bulldog".

She admitted that, "as a 64-year-old woman, with socialist principles, running a business, I don't know who to vote for. I might vote for Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, but we haven't got one of those here ... I might end up voting for the Green Party."