Prescott `too tired' for his campaign role

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The Independent Online
JOHN PRESCOTT is to relinquish his campaigning brief to concentrate on solving transport problems because he is "worn out", Labour sources said last night.

The introduction of a new, powerful Labour Party Chairman in a reshuffle later this month will also mean a change of role for Jack Cunningham, the cabinet "enforcer", and for the Leader of the Commons, Margaret Beckett, who currently takes charge of elections.

Mr Prescott, who heads a team of MPs who help at by-elections and with other campaigning, was tired because he "wants to do everything", one source said. But the Deputy Prime Minister will not lose his transport brief, as some reports suggested yesterday.

"He is tremendously overworked and he has got too much to do. Nobody is going to humiliate him and take his transport brief off him, but there may be a move to sharpen the focus on that and make sure we get it right," the source said.

The introduction of a new party chairman or woman has long been discussed, and seems likely to be introduced at the end of the month when Tony Blair reshuffles his Government.

Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has been discussed as a possible candidate, as has Peter Mandelson, the former trade and industry secretary.

The new campaign chief will take over the election duties of Mr Prescott and Mrs Beckett. He or she will also act as a public spokesman or woman for the Government - a part played at present by Mr Cunningham.

The development came as a weekend drive to mend reported rifts between Mr Prescott and Mr Blair continued.

Yesterday's plea for unity came from the Trade and Industry Secretary, Stephen Byers, who was addressing the Labour Women's Conference in Scarborough.

Mr Byers told the conference that the halfway point in a Parliament could be "a difficult time". "Unity and discipline are vital. We must maintain our common purpose and be clear about our objectives as we build up to the next election.

"But we haven't changed in order to forget our principles, but to ensure we are in a position to implement policies which reflect those principles." he said.

Mr Byers also announced an extension of the Government's plans for unpaid parental leave to cover parents of adopted children.

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