Election '97: Prescott wins ovation as bad jokes triumph at red revue

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Indy Politics
It was an evening when John Prescott, heavyweight politician, became John Prescott, revue star.

Kicking off the first of the party's New Labour Shows in the key marginal seat of Redditch, it was a vintage Prescott performance; with jokes, bad grammar and passion. The 350- strong audience loved it.

The event, the first of seven around the country, had been billed by some as new Labour's music hall show, but was more of a "red revue".

A London-based comedy group, Newsrevue, mixed a few bad jokes with many good ones, including a sketch satirising fears of a privatised health service and the Tories with mock organisations such as the "Royal Pizza Hut Infirmary", the "Blood-U-Like" transfusion service and "Lungs 'R' Us".

The nominal compere was actor Ben Roberts, who plays DCI Conway in the ITV series The Bill. His only gaffe came when he cut short guest speaker Jack Straw's brief speech, thinking it was over; and his limp opening skit with Mr Prescott was so wooden it made Crossroads look well-rehearsed.

But the undoubted star was Mr Prescott who mixed some unsubtle humour with old fashioned tub-thumping rhetoric. He got a few figures wrong - pounds 2 a week instead of pounds 2 an hour for the low-paid - and sometimes his sentences ran out of syntax like a car running low on fuel.

But he even tried to make a joke of that. "The Tories have a go at my syntax, I thought for a moment that was their 24th tax rise," he said to laughter.

His serious message was that the Tories' election promises were the "same old lies", holding up a copy of the Conservative manifesto to ridicule. "They are only offering us more of the same of the last 18 years."

The invited audience of activists and floating voters who all got in free at the near-capacity Palace Theatre, gave him a standing ovation and Labour spokesmen said they were pleased the message had got across for supporters to turn out in full in the party's 90 targeted marginal seats.

Undecided voter John Davis, an engineer, said he found the show "impressive". But he added a note of caution. "They seem to be keen on thumping the Tories but don't spell out their own policies. I'm still not decided."

A presidential-style symbol is to be deployed by John Prescott to stamp his personal appeal on trains, helicopters and his campaign battle bus.

The deputy leader of the Labour Party, who has been assured by Tony Blair that he will be appointed Deputy Prime Minister if Labour wins the election, is planning to take the stick-on "Prescott Express" seal wherever he goes in his coast-to-coast tour of Britain.

Earlier yesterday, his campaign bus stopped at Uttoxeter, in the Conservative- held key marginal constituency of Burton, where Labour needs a swing of 3.5 per cent to win the seat.

Mr Prescott, who has a campaigning role on the BSE-crisis, criticised the Conservatives' handling of mad cow disease. He said BSE was an example of one of the Tories' many "policies of failure".

Ian Holmes, 58, who runs a farm in Shropshire, told Mr Prescott that interest rates were sky high when Labour was last in power and asked why he should trust the party this time. Mr Prescott replied: "We will deliver on health, education and jobs for our young people and I will come back here in five years' time and meet you if we haven't delivered on most things."

Labour's candidate, Janet Dean, said many voters had told her they planned to switch from Conservative to Labour on 1 May. Graham Morrell, 34, an unemployed maintenance fitter from Uttoxeter, said: "I voted Tory last time round, but I have had enough. I have four children to look after and I am sick and tired of false promises from the Conservatives. Last time they said they would cut taxes and give everyone a better standard of living. Their claims that there is an economic boom are laughable."

Mr Prescott later ran into trouble in Birmingham when he lifted up five- year-old Laura Blakemore. The girl's father, Steve Blakemore, a 35-year- old toolmaker from Rushall, Walsall, swiftly grabbed his daughter back and later told reporters that he was unhappy that Mr Prescott had not asked his permission.

"He could have said, 'Do you mind?' I object to him picking up kids willy- nilly."

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