Prescott tells Blair and Brown to stop sniping

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Indy Politics

John Prescott ended the Labour Party conference yesterday with a clear warning to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to stop sniping at each other and unite against the "real enemy" - the Tory party.

In a rousing speech, the Deputy Prime Minister also launched an attack on former ministers such as Robin Cook and Clare Short for writing newspaper articles and appearing on television criticising the Government.

A return to the divisive tactics of the party's past would amount to betrayal of the millions of people who depended on Labour to free them from poverty and protect their rights, he said to applause.

The simmering feud between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor broke into public for the first time this week after Mr Brown made a speech on Monday calling for a return to Labour values and attacking attempts to ape the Tories.

A furious Mr Blair hit back in his own speech the following day by stressing his belief in New Labour and declaring that leadership was grounded in instinct not calculation.

But yesterday Mr Prescott sought to put an end to the in-fighting by making a strong appeal for unity across the whole party. In a pointed reference to "powerful speeches" by Mr Blair and Mr Brown, he said: "This conference knows, this party knows, the whole country knows that these two achieve more by their common endeavour than they do alone."

The Deputy Prime Minister seized on Mr Blair's admission this week that he needed to listen more to his party before drafting controversial policies such as on foundation hospitals and student top-up fees.

"Unfortunately, too many people, in all parts of the party and on all sides of the argument, say 'listen' when they really mean 'listen and then do as I say'," Mr Prescott said.

He said he had told Mr Blair to consult properly when he wanted to change the party's Clause 4 and the result had been a success because rank- and-file members were persuaded by being involved.

"We must, all of us, be prepared to think it possible that we are mistaken. We must be prepared to be persuaded in the argument by force of the argument. We must be prepared to change our minds," he said.

But the right to be consulted carried with it an obligation among all Labour MPs to act responsibly and not use the television or newspapers to attack the Government, Mr Prescott added.

In a reference to Mr Cook's regular articles in The Independent and the serialisation of his memoirs this weekend, the Deputy Prime Minister said he would never "slag off my Government and my former colleagues" if he left office.

"We hold in trust the memory of past generations whose pain, sacrifice and hard work built this party. We protect and promote the interests of today's citizens young and old, men and women, black and white.

"If we fail now, if we tear ourselves apart as we have done in the past, that would truly be a betrayal, a betrayal of all those people who depend on a Labour Government to make their lives better."

Reminding delegates the Tories were the "real enemy," Mr Prescott said Mr Blair was "providing serious leadership" by facing tough choices and taking decisions accordingly.

He also produced a spoof "Tory pledge card", carrying the package that he and the party claims Iain Duncan Smith will offer voters in the next election. Alongside the face of the Conservative leader, the mock card listed supposed promises to privatise the NHS, cut 20 per cent from the public services, sack thousands of nurses, scrap the child tax credit and the pension credit and slash student numbers.