Stop going on about women's rights, Prescott tells Harman

John Prescott has unleashed an outspoken attack on Harriet Harman and blamed a lack of talent for Labour's failure to communicate a clear message to the public.

In a frank interview on the eve of Labour's crucial annual conference in Brighton, the former deputy prime minister said that a lack of direction from the top had left the party wallowing in defeatism.

He told The Independent that the Government had no clear campaign strategy which left it reliant on somehow producing a desperate "knock-out punch" in the "last round" of the fight to win the general election.

He warned that Gordon Brown was being poorly advised and that Lord Mandelson was the only major figure left organising the Labour fight behind the scenes. "There is no direction in campaigning – we are drifting," he said. "You ask yourself, why did we get in the Gurkhas situation? That would never have happened before. So there's a feeling in the party that, somehow, we're not getting a grip on it. There is something lacking."

He accused Ms Harman, his successor as deputy Labour leader, of spending too much time championing equalities issues. "I think the deputy leadership role is for going out and campaigning," he said.

"I suppose, if I was being honest about it, I think too much of the emphasis has been on female rights, which I have supported all my life, and we're not getting other messages across. Most of it is about the equality issue. It is very important, but it is not our biggest campaigning issue, whatever they say about it."

Ms Harman and Labour's election co-ordinator, Douglas Alexander, were not motivating the party and accused the leadership of "hiding behind a lack of money" to fund a campaign strategy, which meant that David Cameron was "not being challenged". "Those who have responsibility for campaigning – it is not reaching out to the depths of the party," Mr Prescott said. "I don't believe, neither will I accept, it is simply about money. We've got a whole bank of MPs who should be out there, doing that job.

"I worry somehow that we've been in a 15-round fight. We're just losing the other rounds when we shouldn't and it's almost getting to the stage where we have to win with a knock-out. There's got to be leadership and there's got to be a message. If we don't get that, then we won't get the knock-out punch in the last round. And we are in the last round."

A lack of experience within Labour's team of special advisers was "an increasing problem", he said, but MPs needed to do more. "We've got a whole bank of MPs, but everybody seems despondent. There's too much defeatist thinking. There's no central direction to campaigning.

"Look at the European elections. We decided we were going to lose it, so we did nothing. My main worry is, are we about to do the same thing again?

"What I cannot understand about our position is that I don't know of any other Labour government that has got as superb a record as this one. Given all its blemishes, given all its difficulties, whether it's on the economy, public services, hospitals or the minimum wage, we can talk about how we turned things around since 1997."

Mr Brown was the right man to lead the party into the general election: "We can still win because we've got the man with the big, clunking fist. But it cannot be just one man making a speech. It has to have direction. I was hoping that would happen last September, but it didn't. And I do worry that it might not happen again. But we don't have any options left."

Labour lacks strategists of the calibre of Alastair Campbell, Philip Gould and Jonathan Powell, who led the party to victory in 1997: "We would have a reply within minutes of a story coming out. Alastair had a good smell for that. These people were exceptional. I don't think the same talent is around today."

Mr Prescott said that Lord Mandelson, who has become the de facto deputy Prime Minister under Mr Brown, was the "only one making a real campaign" for the Government.

"Peter was always the core of that team. We've got individual ministers saying things about their departments, but there's no overall message."

He criticised the former pensions secretary James Purnell and the influential backbencher Jon Cruddas for spending too much time with think-tanks, rather than knocking on doors: "They're a bloody party of whiners, when what we want is a party of campaigners."

Mr Prescott said that he believed Rupert Murdoch had turned decisively against Labour, comparing The Sun's treatment of Mr Brown to its campaign against the party's former leader, Neil Kinnock. The day of the 1992 general election, the paper ran a headline declaring: "If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights".

"They have decided that is what they're going to do," Mr Prescott said. "They've gone back to that. They want to be able to say, 'We led the change'."

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial