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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam