Politics: Prescott: I'm with the workers

HE MAY have famously admitted he's "pretty middle class" now, but John Prescott said yesterday he was "a kind of working-class guy in my heart".

The Deputy Prime Minister criticised Britain for being "obsessed with class", as he spoke about the apparent rift with his 89-year-old father. Bert Prescott had accused his son of abandoning his working-class roots to pursue middle class ambitions. After John Prescott said in a radio interview in 1996 that he was middle class, his father said: "John is the son of a railwayman and grandson of a miner. He worked as a steward on ships serving drinks to well-to-do passengers. If that's not working class, I don't know what is."

Yesterday his son said the family rift had nothing to do with deserting the working classes. "I don't really want to get into that but I do think it's rather stupid that we get into a kind of middle class, working class," he said. "I just treat it as a kind of joke - we are obsessed with class in this country.

"I am a kind of working-class guy in my heart. I have always been. That's where I come from, that's the values I represent. But I think in the same programme I was talking about how many middle-class people were identified with Labour."

Mr Prescott denied his father's claims that the two had barely spoken since Bert publicly stated his son's working-class roots. "It's sad, and it's personal and it's private," Mr Prescott said. "I've seen my father a few times and talked to him. I think most people tend to feel these matters should be left internal to the family - they are built on years and years of relationships in families where, in some cases, there has been a divorce and that creates an amount of bitterness."

He told BBC1's Breakfast With Frost: "I don't really want to continue with this ... it's not only hurtful to the individuals directly influenced, but it also affects people in the family and out of the family."

Mr Prescott senior lives alone in a pensioner's flat in Chester, near his former wife, Phyllis, who remarried after their divorce, but is a widow. He said yesterday: "I saw my son on television today, and I agree what has happened is sad, personal and private. But what I said about him being working class, I have no regrets about."

During the August holiday, Mr Prescott will be "duty minister", and Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, "duty spokesman".