Andy McSmith's Labour Conference Diary: John Prescott’s selective memory shows Chuka is no chum


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Calling Chuka Umunna “Chumbawamba” was not a friendly act. On the face of it, Lord Prescott was making a self-deprecating remark about the difficulty of pronouncing an unfamiliar name when he told the comic Matt Forde, on the Labour conference fringe, “I keep making a mistake of calling him Chumbawamba so I get into all sorts of bloody trouble.”

The former Deputy Prime Minister has form when it comes to misremembering names. He never much liked Lord Mandelson, and made a practice of calling him “Mendelson” – though he remembered Mandelson’s first name perfectly during a photocall by the Thames one day, when presented with a hideous crab in a jar, which he addressed as “Peter”.

Peter Mandelson was running for Labour’s national executive at the time. He blamed the fact that he lost to Ken Livingstone on John Prescott’s antics.

And moreover, “Chumbawamba” is a word that evokes an angry memory in Lord Prescott. He was at the Brit awards with his family, in February 1998, when Dobart Nobacon, lead singer of the anarchist band Chumbawamba, leapt on the Prescotts’ table and poured a bucket of water over him.

His son, David, said afterwards that the women at the table were terrified. Pauline Prescott, John’s wife, reportedly burst into tears. John Prescott was understandably furious. His office issued a statement condemning the stunt as “deplorable” and “totally unacceptable”.

Not a Chuka Umunna fan, I would say.

The blind leading the  blind – and right on cue

Reflecting on Ed Miliband’s embarrassing mental blank that made him forget to mention the deficit in his conference speech, David Blunkett suggested that if the Labour leader becomes Prime Minister, he will have to use an autocue – though Blunkett added that he never used one because, of course, he was born blind.

The former Downing Street policy wonk  Matthew Taylor, appearing with Blunkett on Radio 4’s Today programme, recalled: “I actually have a letter from David in which he thanks me for inviting him to autocue training, but  says regretfully that he won’t be able to use it, which I prize.”