Prezza is projected into perpetual motion

Tony was there, obviously. Gordon was there. David Blunkett was present. Even Margaret Beckett had been allowed on to the platform of Labour's first election press conference (though she didn't say anything). But where was John Prescott, Labour's folk hero?

All we had (among our bundle of press releases) was an ominous bit of paper telling us that Prezza had - that morning - "set out on a 10,000- mile round-Britain election tour - the biggest tour by an individual politician in election history".

Tongues wagged as we waited for the event to begin. Was Prescott - like Gerald Kaufman in 1992 - being shunted out of the limelight, deemed too dangerous to leave at large in the capital?

Worse, the release went on to state that "the first leg of the tour will finish in Inverness in late April". The first leg? Late April? But the election is on 1 May, so did this mean that Prezza was to be kept in perpetual (but harmless) motion throughout the next Labour government, commencing visits to African and Central American capitals only when he had exhausted the constituencies of Britain? (Had interpreters all over the world been warned of the syntactical nightmare coming their way?)

But before the Prezza lovers among us had time to protest, a button was pressed and a giant screen in the centre of the white hacienda wall opened up.

We were transported to a scene out of Songs of Praise. Standing on a windy dock -- the river Fal and the low hills of Cornwall behind them - was a group of middle-aged happy clappies, gathered round their thick- set and avuncular pastor.

Any minute, at his gentle command, they'd break into a rendition of "All Things Bright and Beautiful", which we at home could hum over our press releases.

"Hello John," said Tony fondly, and the thick-set vicar smiled craggily and responded, "Hello Tony". It was, of course, John Prescott, embarked upon his tour. Gathered around him, he had a group of "ordinary" Falmouthians - whose common hobby just happened to be catapulting Labour into power as soon as possible. Prezza was vicar no longer. But as he interviewed the locals live with an aplomb that would have done justice to an insert into the National Lottery programme or the Eurovision Song Contest, he became a genuine, scowly-smiley TV star; a cross between Anthea Turner and Les Dawson.

Like the moment when he introduced a man in a chef's costume, who was sporting a gigantic pasty on a huge salver. It was, the chef told us, his contribution to the Labour Party. Our hearts were in our mouths; was it not possible that a Tory dirty tricks Tarquin had got to the man in white coat, and bribed him to give Prezza a pasty shampoo in front of the world's press?

But no. The happy clappies clapped happily, and Prezza did a short chaotic homily on local unemployment "in the 18 to 25 years", before introducing a man "oo lives next door to Zeb Coe", but was nevertheless voting Labour.

Such folk - asked their opinion on camera - usually grunt into the hoods of their parkas. But not Seb's neighbour. With a practised turn to camera this chap reeled off a list of emotional reasons why he wanted Coe out and Labour in, involving his children, his grand-children, his collie Petra, and the starving of the world. And all without a script.

With that, Prezza (now headed for Plymouth and Exeter) handed back to Tony in the London studio. "My thanks, John!" said the Leader. "Cheerio, Tony!" said Prezza. It was a knockout.