Transport: Prescott steers difficult course ...

John Prescott wants you to use your car less. The only problem is that some of his party do not agree. Randeep Ramesh and Colin Brown report.
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The Independent Online
The man tasked with ending the public's love affair with the car is well-known for his love of large and powerful Jaguars as well as a record of speeding offences.

For a government concerned as much about symbolism as substance, is it long before the new Labour spinners ask John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, whether he needs to change his car - or his job.

Not that this will bother John Prescott. He has little time for the "beautiful people" who run new Labour. They may have wooed the middle-class with two kids, private school fees and two cars - one sleek 2 litre saloon and a people carrier - but that is not Mr Prescott's problem.

The Deputy Prime Minister would like the public to get out of their cars and into the buses and onto the trains. And he wants it done quickly. How he does this without losing the precious support of millions of middle- class Labour voters is his problem.

He could implement a series of swingeing taxes on parking; he might introduce road charges; he could double petrol prices - a proposal contained in the Royal Commission report released yesterday.

Then he could funnel the money raised into greener alternatives like improving the London Underground system or the revitalising the ailing bus network.

But many oppose him and these seemingly sensible measures. What is worst is most of his critics are in his own party. His arch-rival Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, is known to be unhappy with any new tax.

Mr Brown, also, does not want the to lose control over any revenue collected - especially by handing it to Mr Prescott and his newly-created Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Without these measures, experts say it is impossible to see how Labour can make good on its promises to cut carbon dioxide levels and ease global warming.

The Tories also scent bad blood between the Labour brethren. John Redwood last night said a "turf war" between Mr Prescott and Margaret Beckett, the President of the Board of Trade, was exacerbating a dilemma for the Government over its commitment to environmentally-friendly policy.

"I believe there is a Whitehall row between Prescott and Mrs Beckett. It has started a turf war over the number of territorial claims that the Deputy Prime Minister is making over the DTI and it is going to be the cause of continuing tension between them," Mr Redwood said.

Mr Redwood, the Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, wrote to Mrs Beckett challenging her over whether she supported curbs on vehicle use, or backed the car industry. "They are facing hard choices, and they cannot have it both ways," he said.