Home Secretary: Reid's profile soars as Prescott takes a back seat after alert

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Indy Politics

John Reid has taken personal charge of handling the terror alert facing Britain - leaving John Prescott on the sidelines. As the national security alert was raised to its maximum level and Labour MPs stepped up pressure for the recall of Parliament, the Home Secretary led the Government's response to the crisis.

Mr Reid chaired two overnight meetings of Cobra, the Whitehall civil contingencies committee, in the absence of Tony Blair, who is on holiday in Barbados. He also took centre stage at a Westminster press conference, accompanied by Douglas Alexander, the Transport Secretary, Paul Stephenson, the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and Stephen Nelson, of the British Airports Authority.

As Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Prescott is supposed to be in charge while Mr Blair is out of the country. His absence from either Cobra meeting, or the Westminster press conference, will reignite speculation his role is only nominal.

Mr Reid's profile has rocketed since he took over at the Home Office 98 days ago after the sacking of Charles Clarke.

Yesterday he even took on the duty of informing the Conservative leader, David Cameron, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, of developments. The job would normally fall to the Prime Minister or his deputy.

Mr Blair had been advised it was safe for him to travel to Barbados as dramatic developments were not expected in the near future. But the breakthrough came on Wednesday night and the Prime Minister spoke regularly through the night to Mr Reid. One official admitted: "I don't suppose he would have gone on holiday if he had known what was going to happen."

But Mr Reid and Mr Alexander, who broke his holiday to return to London, are leading the Government's response. They are liasing with Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister.

Meanwhile, the pressure to recall the Commons was looking unstoppable as more backbenchers joined 150 MPs calling for Parliament to debate the conflict in the Middle East and its impact on British Muslims.

MPs believe the Commons could be recalled for a day in September to allow them to air their growing concern at Tony Blair's foreign policy.