The Labour Leadership: Number two left feeling down by the riverside: Leader prefers media circus to beer and sandwiches on floating pub

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The Independent Online
JOHN PRESCOTT learnt on day one yesterday that being deputy leader can have its disappointments. He also learnt that Tony Blair, despite an image that suggests butter would not melt in his mouth, is capable of delivering an early snub, writes Martin Whitfield.

For two hours Mr Prescott waited on the decks of the Tattershall Castle, a former Humber ferry turned pub moored on the river Thames at Westminster, for his new boss to join him for a celebration drink.

But as the guests began to trickle away late in the afternoon, a mood of anti-climax set in as the crowd was not able to cherish the two men together, united over a half of bitter or even a glass of fizzy water.

It became quite clear that Mr Blair, given the choice, would rather keep up his round of media interviews than press the flesh of Mr Prescott's friends, relatives and party workers.

Looking increasingly irritated, Mr Prescott passed the time chatting, doing the odd radio interview and speaking into a mobile telephone in a huddle with his worried advisers. Pauline, his wife, in white suit and blue shoes, appeared at the gangway with her instant camera to take souvenir snaps of her husband.

She popped up later at one of Mr Blair's rearranged arrival times but had to be content to take pictures of press photographers, who posed happily after taking hers.

The party had been Mr Prescott's third on the Tattershall Castle, each given after deputy leadership contests. His leader's 'no-show' took away any sense of fun on the only occasion he had something to celebrate, particularly as the imminent arrival had been announced in a speech which was full of lavish praise of Mr Blair's virtues.

The leader's own celebration, a middle-class event, unlike Mr Prescott's, was never expected to be fun. Fittingly held in Church House, administrative headquarters of the Church of England, it was a meeting of the chattering classes, now known among the chattering classes as 'Islington persons'.

Mr Blair and Cherie Booth, his wife, were presented with red roses as the guests applauded from the balcony. They looked the perfect couple, an image that Mr Blair will use in his squeaky-clean moral crusade to get Labour back in government.

Below decks at the Tattershall Castle, trade unionists - banished to the back of the hall during the leadership inauguration - could only grumble into their beer and agree with Mr Blair's opening comment: 'Look at how we have changed.'

(Photograph omitted)