Blair attacks Press for Prescott `tittle-tattle'

Labour offensive: Leader says his deputy has vital role to play as party sets out to woo commerce

JOHN RENTOUL

Political Correspondent

Tony Blair yesterday testily dismissed as newspaper "tittle-tattle" reports that deputy leader John Prescott was being sidelined, and urged shadow Cabinet members at a special meeting not to allow the summer's "difficulties" to blunt their attack on the Government.

The Labour leader sought to focus attention on the substance of the party's economic policies as he launched the "New Labour-New Britain Business Tour" which will take him and his economic team of Gordon Brown, Robin Cook and Jack Cunningham to 18 towns and cities in the next two months.

But the absence of Mr Prescott from the news conference prompted a bad- tempered exchange with journalists who asked about the state of Mr Blair's relationship with his deputy. "I don't think I've read anything quite so silly as some of the things in the newspapers this morning ... You should remember that it was John Prescott and I who put through the biggest change in the Labour Party's constitution in the party's history. And we did it together. That is the best testament we can put," Mr Blair said.

Asked why Mr Prescott was not on the platform, Mr Blair responded crisply: "He's in Birmingham, putting the Labour Party's case."

Mr Prescott - who had in fact already returned for the shadow Cabinet meeting - later sat at Mr Blair's side as the Labour leader set out the themes for the Labour conference in two weeks' time. Gez Sagar, hired last week by Mr Prescott as his personal press officer, said the deputy leader had supportively "echoed" Mr Blair's strictures about not being "blown off course".

The shadow Cabinet was presented with polling data said to show that the murmurings against Mr Blair's leadership over the summer had not dented Labour's lead. A spokesman for Mr Blair said the meeting approved a strategy to counter Conservative "scare stories" about Labour with "a lot of campaigning on what Britain will be like if the Tories win again".

But Mr Blair, at the launch of the business tour, said that the purpose of this year's Labour conference was "to speak in direct terms to the British people and offer the commitment of a Labour government to specific things that can help change this country".

He went on: "People aren't interested in all this tittle-tattle in the papers this morning - what they want to know about the Labour government is what is it going to do about the economy, about industry, about the education and health services, about crime, the problems of law and order on our streets, about the disaffection from politics. These are the real issues."

His spokesman promised: "At the end of conference week you should be clear about what Tony means when he talks about New Britain." But he refused to comment on whether costings would finally be attached to the "specific policy commitments" that will be announced in Brighton.

Mr Blair also dismissed the report in yesterday's Scotsman that Donald Dewar, Labour's social security spokesman, was his choice for party chief whip - a vital post in government.

"It is one of many stories which caused me amazement this morning," Mr Blair said.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup