Prescott 'tried to retract attack on Mandelson'

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Indy Politics

Political Correspondent

John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, tried to retract apparently critical comments about one of Tony Blair's most trusted advisers, to be shown on television this month.

In part four of The Wilderness Years series, beginning on BBC2 on Sunday, Mr Prescott says that Peter Mandelson MP, Labour's former communications chief but now part of the deputy leader's campaign team, had "extraordinary influence, beyond what he should have exercised", at the time of Mr Precott's 1988 challenge for the deputy leadership.

Mr Prescott adds that "I'm sure Peter would feel that he was carrying out the job he was expected to do", but comments: "If you went to tell Neil [Kinnock] and protested as often shadow cabinet ministers did ... Neil used to deny they were going on and it wasn't his office.

"Well we just all knew frankly that wasn't true and whether he knew or not is another matter but certainly his office were at it and I don't think it was limited to Peter Mandelson."

In the interview, conducted in August, Mr Prescott recalls Mr Kinnock's advisers as feeling "... well the leader feels who'll rid me of this troublesome priest and they play their part and there's no doubt we felt very strongly about that, they weren't only whispering, they were pretty well shouting, what they thought had to be a rubbishing of me ... they feared that I might do a lot better than I did."

The following month Mr Prescott's office made three attempts to persuade the producer Denys Blakeway to edit out the references to "personalities".

Mr Blakeway said yesterday: "There was some concern expressed by his office afterwards that he wasn't entirely happy with the comments he had made.

"They said they were under the impression that issues of personality weren't going to be included in the programme."

Mr Blakeway said he had made his editing decisions purely on an editorial basis.

In a passage on a television interview with Michael Meacher, then Labour's employment spokesman, Mr Mandelson delivers a doughty defence of spin- doctors. "Noboby was undermining anyone," he said. "What often the press office was doing was saving politicians from themselves, from their own gaffes, and from the messes that they had created.

"When someone goes on television and does something which creates sort of palpable damage to the party and the message we're ... trying to get across, it has to be all hands to the pump."