No identity crisis for the party's annual star turn

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Political Editor

John Prescott's tour de force yesterday looks very much like becoming an annual star turn at the Labour conference; but that very star turn only underlines the perpetual fascination with the deputy leader's role and what it will be if Labour wins power. And once in power will he become something of a Michael Heseltine, ranging widely in ensuring Labour meets its policy goals; or will he have his own department?

It would be a surprise if the ride had been completely smooth in the 16 months since they were both elected and it hasn't. Mr Prescott was, to say the least, taken aback when the leader told him he was going to replace Clause IV - though when he was won round he was one of those who worked hardest to help secure the change.

For all the warm words that were found to explain away his absence from the strategy meeting convened at the home of the pro-Labour advertising man, Chris Powell, in March, Mr Prescott was understandably pretty annoyed not to be there at the time. He let his dismay show, when after Mr Blair's Clause IV triumph, the leader promised that the transformation of the party, including the further reduction in the block vote, would continue; worrying as much, perhaps, about the presentation of this as about the content, he gave a television interview in which he made a pointed remark about the need to be magnanimous in victory.

And finally, his exclusion from the circulation list of the Philip Gould memo was yet another aggravation. It is also probable that, as a long- time believer that the economic stranglehold of the Treasury needs to be loosened, he is frustrated - and he is not alone in the Shadow Cabinet in feeling this - that he does have more input to discussion of economic matters.

But Mr Prescott has a sense of history, and he knows what an awful precedent George Brown set as deputy leader with his frequent tantrums and resignation threats. He will not seek to submerge his identity in Mr Blair's, knowing that without retaining his own credibility he is in any case not much use to Mr Blair. But he does respect his leadership - as well as genuinely like the man - even if doesn't always agree with him.

Mr Blair does not give hostages to fortune by publicly predicting what Cabinet post he will give to whom, or that Mr Prescott will be deputy Prime Minister like Mr Heseltine.

But Mr Prescott likes his job; and in any case he is a political grown- up: too interested in power and how to use it in government to allow the aggravations of Opposition to cause the kind of detonation in his relationship with Mr Blair for which some Tories hope.