Prescott is now a figure of fun, says Heseltine

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Indy Politics

Michael Heseltine yesterday attacked Tony Blair's decision to sack John Prescott but allow him to keep perks worth an estimated £800,000.

The Tory former deputy prime minister warned that Mr Prescott, who has been stripped of his ministerial responsibilities, will be a figure of fun.

Lord Heseltine told the BBC's Today programme: "I think he will be laughed at; that is humiliation. That is the most devastating and damaging thing that can happen. He is now a figure of fun and there is no escape from that."

Two weeks ago, the man nicknamed "Two Jags" admitted cheating on his wife Pauline with his diary secretary, Tracey Temple.

Despite his department being axed by Tony Blair in Friday's reshuffle, the Deputy Prime Minister has managed to hold on to his title, his £130,000 salary, his taxpayer-funded flat in Admiralty House and the 214-acre Dorneywood estate in Buckinghamshire.

It is understood that Mr Prescott learned of his demotion while at his home in Hull in a telephone call from the Prime Minister. Sources close to Mr Prescott said Mr Blair broke the bad news "gently". The Prime Minister knows he has to handle New Labour's most loyal ally very carefully, especially as Mr Prescott's "nuclear option" is to resign as deputy leader of the party, triggering a race that would inevitably turn into a leadership challenge by proxy.

In taking away his power but leaving him with all the trappings of a valued member of government, Mr Blair seems to have rightly concluded that Mr Prescott's capacity for humiliation is far greater than his frequently thin-skinned behaviour suggests.

Mr Prescott's friends are insisting he has wanted to shed some of his responsibilities for a year. "He's knackered, absolutely on his knees," said one. He is, they say, determined to stay to referee the handover to Gordon Brown. "He's the only one with the whistle, the only one who can do it."

But with another raft of unseemly revelations about his sexual misdemeanors expected in the tabloids today, many feel that he has unwittingly, and thoughtlessly, helped to damage his own party.

Nice work... What he keeps

LUXURY RESIDENCE: Grace-and-favour flat worth £2.3m

CAR: Ministerial Jaguar, his car of choice. Estimated cost: £50,000

HOUSE: Official country residence at Dorneywood, Bucks

What he loses

HIS DEPARTMENT: Duties for communities and local government

STATUS: Stays Deputy PM in title but his influence has been cut

PAPERWORK: Remit cut to chairing some cabinet committees