John Prescott was riding a wave of support from Labour MPs last night after privately attacking the Bush administration for being "crap" on the Middle East peace process.
The Deputy Prime Minister was also buoyed by public support for his outspoken remarks about the US President, George Bush, after they were revealed in yesterday's Independent.
Mr Prescott's use of the word "crap" reached the White House yesterday. The President's press secretary, Tony Snow, made light of the remark, saying that Mr Bush had "been called a lot worse and, I suspect, will be".
However, the Deputy Prime Minister was under growing pressure from disgruntled Labour MPs to go public with his private concerns about the Prime Minister's close support for the Bush administration in its role in the Middle East.
Calls for Parliament to be recalled to debate the Middle East crisis were also stepped up by some of those who had written to Mr Prescott last week to demand an emergency debate but had been rebuffed by him. Ann Cryer, of the Parliamentary Committee, the Labour "shop stewards" who meet Mr Blair weekly, said: "I have no doubt there is a very large number of Labour MPs who will be agreeing with what John Prescott is alleged to have said. I agree with it. There is huge concern right across the Labour back bench."
Also backing Mr Prescott, Jim Sheridan, who resigned as a parliamentary aide to defence ministers in protest over the Middle East crisis, said: "I don't think the Americans have given the road map the priority that it deserves and until you solve the problem of Palestine, other problems are going to appear."
Harry Cohen, the Labour backbencher who revealed the conversation with MPs, stood by his comments, but said Mr Prescott should now go public with his doubts about US policy. "He said Bush had been crap on the Middle East road map and he was right to say so. I think it would be very helpful if he would say this publicly now, because it is time these issues were aired," Mr Cohen said. "I think he will get a standing ovation at the Labour Party conference now."
Mr Prescott issued a carefully worded denial through his private office, saying: "This is an inaccurate report of a private conversation and it is not my view."
However, he was seen by parliamentary researchers in good spirits having lunch on the terrace of the Commons. A political blogger claimed last night that one witness overheard him telling allies: "All these people saying, 'Prescott should be sacked' is rubbish - 80 per cent of them agree with me" - a reference to a YouGov poll yesterday which found that most people wanted Tony Blair to distance himself from President Bush.
Supporting Mr Prescott's remarks, John Trickett, the Labour MP leading the campaign for the recall of Parliament, said: "There appears to be a national feeling that the actions and language of the British Government are actively hindering the prospects for peace in the Middle East; simultaneously enhancing the threat from terrorism that the UK clearly faces."
The Prime Minister is planning to go to the Middle East when he returns from his holiday to try to revive the road map, but Labour MPs were holding out little hope of success last night. Many want him to follow the lead given by Mr Prescott and distance himself from the Bush administration.
MPs fear Mr Blair strongly believes in Bush's analysis of an "axis of evil" that must be confronted. Last night, MPs were saying that Mr Blair had used remarkably similar language, in warning of an "arc of extremism". There are fears that Mr Blair will be encouraged by the White House to back action against Iran, which he claims has sponsored terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan and has armed Hizbollahin Lebanon.Reuse content