Furious Prescott rounds on critics

'I'm exhausted by the press... It's got used to getting rid of ministers. They think here's one they can pop off.'
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Indy Politics

A furious John Prescott last night lashed out at claims that he had lost his key transport portfolio to his junior minister Lord Macdonald following criticisms from Downing Street that he is too 'anti-car'.

A furious John Prescott last night lashed out at claims that he had lost his key transport portfolio to his junior minister Lord Macdonald following criticisms from Downing Street that he is too 'anti-car'.

In an interview with The Independent, the Deputy Prime Minister gave vent to his frustration as reports that he had been sacked from his frontline transport job threatened to overshadow a strategy speech he will make today.

In the speech he will signal that it could take up to 10 years to deliver the long-term improvements to transport promised by Labour at the last election.

Mr Prescott, who believes he was hounded by the media on his trip to India, exploded against reporters who had a 'down for me' and were exhausting his energies by the strength of their attacks.

He said: "What right have they to do that? Shouldn't I be getting on with my job? No - because there are some of these reporters who I cannot say are ignorant, they are just not prepared to do it. They have just got a down for me."

The speculation was fuelled by a speech he is due to make today to the Institute for Public Policy Research, in which he will announce that a 10-year £80bn transport programme will be under the day-to-day control of transport minister, Lord Macdonald.

John Redwood, the Tory spokesman, said: "Prescott has lost control of transport because Blair and co are deeply embarrassed about the way they have completely lost support on transport. It is not that Prescott is no good at putting the policy across - the policy is no good."

Liberal Democrat frontbencher Nick Harvey said: "It is an admission of failure. John Prescott came in at the beginning of the Parliament with big claims of what he could do."

Downing Street yesterday rejected the claims he had 'lost' his transport portfolio as 'totally wrong'. Mr Prescott, officially Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Transport, Environment and the Regions, said: "It's exactly as it was before. I am responsible for the policy on transport, environment, housing, and the regions. I am no less in charge than I ever was before. I intend to keep close control in all these areas of strategy. I ask my ministers to get on and implement that strategy."

Lord Macdonald said his role would be to "draw together" transport policies.

Mr Prescott's speech today follows a review of his department's often disasterous presentation by Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary. It is intended to answer criticism that there was no apparent improvement in transport after more than two years in power.

"If you go to my white paper, I said this was long-term; you can't change it overnight, and you have got to make some decisions that can't be avoided. Congestion charging does take three or four years to implement. What we need to do is find more money to improve the public transport system but at the same time show people what is on the way, how we can make a better transport system," Mr Prescott said.

"There is no doubt that a lot of the press who tell me I haven't solved congestion in two years - as if it was possible - show a lack of understanding of the scale of the problems we have undertaken.

"I will be saying this is our plan for 10 years. Everyone is assuming the Labour Government is going to be here for 10 years. Let me map out what I think is possible. It's really to inform the public about what we have in mind, what we are aiming for, why we are taking these actions, and why it is a long-term policy," he added.

In a further shift of emphasis to show the Government is not 'anti-car' Mr Prescott will announce roadbuilding schemes to tackle road bottlenecks, such as the M6 near Birmingham.

He will also register his determination to create a "high quality" bus network integrated with the rail system. There will also be a new tram system.