John Prescott distances himself from the Liberal Democrats' demand for a change to the voting system

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, yesterday set his face against a change to proportional representation in local government, reports Colin Brown
Click to follow
The Independent Online
"I'm not a fan of PR," John Prescott declares in a pre-conference interview. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions does not want proportional representation in local government, and he he would take a lot of persuading before he accepts it for Westminster.

PR could be one of the sticking points in the coming year for his loyalty. Tony Blair has shown a readiness to draw the Liberal Democrats into the Government, but he too has said he has yet to be persuaded about the advantages of PR for the Commons.

That has not stopped speculation that the momentum is gathering for PR in Westminster, with the possibility that Lord Jenkins, the Liberal Democrat peer, could be appointed to head a review within the next few weeks.

The Deputy Prime Minister sets himself against PR for local government in the New Statesman before next week's annual Labour Party Conference, where Mr Prescott is set to be one of the stars of the celebratory show.

He also sets out the difficulties which will delay the implementation of regional government with directly elected authorities until after the next election. "In England you need to do something about the local government structure, which makes it much more difficult.

"In the early 1980s I argued for a two-tier structure but then you have to ask - what is the role for the counties? Then there is the question of boundaries. Is Cumberland in the North-west or the North-east? ... So in my mind, establishing proper regional assemblies, based on local accountability, is a matter for the back end of this Parliament or the next term."

He does not deny that there have been tensions involving other ministers over the compromise plan to go forward with regional assemblies, but says they have been based on misunderstandings. "There have been matters of real concern for David [Blunkett] and Margaret [Beckett] but we have made it clear in discussions with them that this isn't a bid for development agencies to take over everything that's regional.