Prescott, the Beck's beer socialist

John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, last night lodged an official complaint against photographs of himself being doctored to make him look like a "champagne socialist".

The true picture of Mr Prescott and his wife Pauline at a party showed that there were bottles of Becks beer on their table, not champagne bottles.

But in the photograph that appeared in the London Evening Standard, one bottle of beer by Mr Prescott's hand had been airbrushed out of the picture. Another had been cropped so that it appeared to be the neck of a champagne bottle.

"However harmless this may seem, I believe it is disgraceful and unacceptable that a newspaper should doctor pictures in this way," Mr Prescott said.

Airbrushing was often used by newspapers in the former Soviet Union to remove Soviet leaders who were no longer in favour in the Politburo. But it is probably the first time a beer bottle has been removed this way.

It came after the press seized on Mr Prescott's comments last week that he was "middle class" because he earned pounds 34,000 as an MP. Under the headline "Aye lad, I'm right middle class, me", the Standard said Mr Prescott had handed Tony Blair's New Labour the ultimate endorsement by admitting he was middle class.

Beneath the photograph, showing Mr Prescott in a dinner jacket, was a caption saying "champagne socialist".

He took the unusual step of issuing a statement to demand a full apology for the slip up over the beer as part of Labour's "rebuttal" policy in the run-up to the general election. He said: "The standards of the Tory press in the run-up to the election are bound to be an issue if this kind of thing goes on and we intend to draw attention to such malpractice at every turn."

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