An outburst that shows Labour's true feelings towards America

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Indy Politics

John Prescott's use of the C-word about the Bush administration will remind Tony Blair that before he headed for the beach, he faced a cabinet revolt over his support for George Bush on the Middle East.

The uneasy ceasefire in the Lebanon bought him a breathing space, but he will return to a party still seething with anger at the way he has allowed Britain to be seen as "Bush's poodle".

Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, led the doubters in the Cabinet but his concerns were echoed by loyalists such as David Miliband and later by Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary.

Minister after minister is said to have urged Mr Blair to break with the Bush administration at his summit with President Bush in the White House and publicly criticise the scale of the Israeli bombing. Mr Blair is reported to have told allies that he did not need convincing about the concern among the Muslim communities in Britain but he felt it imperative to use his close relationship with the President to push for the revival of the Middle East road map.

The Prime Minister has been frustrated by the lack of progress on the road map by the Bush administration and Mr Prescott's alleged remarks that the "Bush administration has been crap" on the issue are widely shared in Labour ranks at Westminster.

Mr Blair believes he gains from his relationship with the Republican Bush administration. Some American commentators, such as Irwin Stelzer, agree, saying Mr Blair is not Bush's poodle, but his "guide dog". It was Mr Blair who persuaded the White House to go to the UN for the ill-fated second resolution before the Iraq war.

The Prime Minister made it clear before his holiday that he wants to make a personal stake in reviving the Middle East peace talks as a priority when he returns from the Caribbean.

The problem is that he has already been revealed as a supplicant to the President. The microphone that was switched on at the G8 summit in St Petersburg - when the President shouted "Yo Blair" in greeting to his ally - also revealed that Mr Blair asked the President for permission to go to the Middle East himself, and was refused. Mr Bush firmly said that Condoleezza Rice, his Secretary of State, could do the job.

The more worrying factor for the Cabinet, which they now privately discuss, is that Mr Blair is convinced that the Bush White House is right about the "axis of evil". The Prime Minister called it the "arc of extremism", but the analysis is the same. Mr Blair said you only had to "join up the dots" around the world.

Cabinet colleagues are becoming uneasy that unless Mr Blair delivers on the Middle East by securing an historic peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the UK could be asked to support the Americans in confronting the suppliers of Hizbollah's arms - Iran.

Before he was moved, Mr Straw said Britain's support for military action against Iran was "inconceivable", which was a public attempt to tie Mr Blair's hands. Mr Stelzer said Condi Rice had noted that Mr Straw's Blackburn constituency had a large Muslim population, confirming doubts in the White House about his suitability as Foreign Secretary. However, Mr Straw's allies believe his downfall was his attempt to dictate foreign policy to Mr Blair.

Mr Prescott has been a loyal and trusted ally to the Prime Minister and will continue to be so until the transition of power to Gordon Brown takes place, probably next year.

Few give him credit for knowledge of foreign affairs, but Mr Prescott has played a part in world affairs as Mr Blair's deputy. His political idol was not the leftwinger, Nye Bevan, but Ernie Bevin, the outstanding Foreign Secretary and deputy to Clem Attlee. His remark will be seen as a rare flash of honesty in a world of duplicity in the Middle East.