Prescott: I would have resigned over Lib-Lab deal

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Indy Politics

John Prescott revealed yesterday that he would have resigned from the Cabinet if Tony Blair had gone ahead with his plan to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

John Prescott revealed yesterday that he would have resigned from the Cabinet if Tony Blair had gone ahead with his plan to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

The Deputy Prime Minister, in his strongest attack so far on suggestions that Mr Blair supported plans to give two cabinet posts to the Liberal Democrats, said he "would not have sat in the same room" as Paddy Ashdown.

"Tony Blair made it absolutely clear we would discuss issues of constitutional matters, and we continued to do that, and we thought that was profitable and right, on major constitutional issues.

"But Paddy wanted to go further, he wants to sit in this little chair in the Cabinet and become part of the Government. I wouldn't have sat in the same room with him," he told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost yesterday.

Asked whether he would consider sitting in Cabinet with the current Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, in any future coalition, Mr Prescott said: "Liberals want to do what is in their interests, but it is not in ours.

"You shouldn't do anything like that, and I don't believe in it anyway."

Mr Ashdown, who was then Liberal Democrat leader, disclosed details of his discussions with Mr Blair, before and after the last general election, in his diary, which is due to be published soon.

In the account, he is expected to describe several meetings he had with Mr Blair and other confidants discussing the possibility of a LabourLiberal Democrat coalition.

Mr Ashdown and Mr Blair started regular face-to-face meetings within weeks of the Labour leader's election after John Smith's death in 1994.

If Mr Blair had not won a 179-seat majority in the 1997 general election, sources in both parties have claimed the pair intended to form a coalition, with Mr Ashdown taking the job of Foreign Secretary.

Mr Ashdown, who recorded details of his life on a tape recorder every night, revealed how Mr Blair, even seven months after winning the landslide, offered to replace two members of his Cabinet with the Liberal Democrat MPs Alan Beith and Menzies Campbell.

He used code words to disguise the nature of the meeting. Mr Blair is referred to by the initials OMF - short for Our Mutual Friend and the coalition plan is known as TFM (The Full Monty).

Mr Ashdown's diary, which will cause renewed anger among Labour tribalists, records Mr Blair telling Mr Ashdown that he could see "two easy people to move out of the Cabinet" at the time. "But he was really worried about the reaction from his party," the records say.

Mr Blair, concerned about the backlash, kept the plans secret from Mr Prescott and Gordon Brown, knowing their fierce opposition.

But Peter Mandelson, Robin Cook, Jonathan Powell and David Miliband are all understood to have been part of the negotiations.

Meanwhile, Mr Ashdown, the MP for Yeovil, has been widely tipped to become the next head of the United Nations administration in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo.

The appointment is made by Kofi Annan, the secretary general, but the candidate must be acceptable to the five members of the Security Council.

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