The No 10 Policy Unit has sent a memorandum to the Deputy Prime Minister, written in Mr Blair's name, objecting to the tone of his proposed Transport White Paper and complaining that it is too anti-car.
The move is potentially inflammatory, as he is passionately committed to the paper - the first on transport for 20 years - and has staked his personal and political credibility on reducing car use and increasing buses, trains, walking and cycling in a new "integrated transport policy".
The White Paper, originally due to be published this month, but delayed to June, would empower local councils to impose substantial new charges on motorists.
After tough negotiations with Mr Prescott, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, has agreed that councils would be given powers to levy "congestion charges" on motorists who bring their cars into towns and cities at peak times, and heavy levies on "private non-residential parking", which would hit people who use their cars to go to work or shop. Shops, offices and factories would be charged for parking spaces they provide, as would out-of-town supermarkets.
In a rare concession, Mr Brown has agreed that the money raised - expected to add up to pounds 3bn over the next 10 years - would not be swallowed up by the Treasury, but could be used by councils to finance transport projects.
The plans fulfil campaign pledges to enable local authorities to "introduce charges for road use in congested areas", but have alarmed No 10, which is worried about alienating motorists. The memorandum, written by Geoffrey Norris of the Policy Unit, points out that the private car has proved a liberator for many people. However, official Labour policy emphasises that this freedom has been restricted by congestion and pollution.
Mr Prescott is furious that a relatively junior official should criticise his policies in the Prime Minister's name, before Mr Blair has given his own opinion on the matter.Reuse content