The Labour Leadership: Prescott wins respect as 'honest socialist': Colin Brown reports on changing perceptions of the MP who was a favourite target of Tory ridicule

JOHN PRESCOTT yesterday underlined his loyalty to the leadership of Tony Blair. Whatever rows they may have, he intends to keep them in private. 'It is going to be a co-operative. There will be a merging of their two offices,' one Prescott supporter said.

Mr Prescott will probably have a key role in shaking up the party's organisation and launching the mass membership drive that Mr Blair promised yesterday. But many of those who took part in his successful campaign will want him to be a driving force on economic policy as well.

Mr Prescott promises to be a powerful drum major for the new- style Labour Party, appealing to those parts of the Labour Movement that at the moment Mr Blair does not reach.

He was lampooned as a dinosaur at last year's Conservative Party conference. A huge screen showed the Labour deputy leader at his own party conference the week before, but his words were coming out backwards.

It had the Tory representatives weeping with laughter, and it is a piece of character assassination that is likely to be played again as the general election draws nearer. The Tories like poking fun at Mr Prescott.

Nicholas Soames used to joke about Mr Prescott's background as a merchant seaman on Humber ferries, and his time as a waiter. 'A whisky for me Giovanni, and one for my friend,' he once shouted across the chamber, when Mr Prescott was at the despatch box.

But increasingly Tories are praising Mr Prescott as an honest socialist. It may suit them to patronise Mr Prescott's working-class roots. By praising his political 'honesty', the Tories cast aspersions on Mr Blair's alleged lack of an ideological anchor.

However, the popular picture of Mr Prescott as the blundering bruiser from a long-dead age of socialism is as false as the Flintstone cartoons. It is true, as he is the first to acknowledge, that he has trouble with words.

His speech in support of John Smith to the Labour conference, cruelly ridiculed by the Tories, was a passionate, moving performance, putting those who saw it in mind of Aneurin Bevan. It was unscripted, and written down it looked incoherent. The Labour rank and file knew what he meant, and backed him in the vote.

That vote on One Member One Vote democracy in the party was the turning point for some on the left, against Mr Prescott. They include Dennis Skinner, who shared a flat with Mr Prescott at the London headquarters of the former National Union of Seamen.

But Mr Prescott's success yesterday showed that he has lifted his appeal beyond the narrow band of the hard-left purists. He has been a driving force behind policy modernisation in the party: he is passionately opposed to the privatisation of British Rail but seized the initiative from the Government over transport by arguing years before it became fashionable for BR to raise money for investment from the private sector. In his leadership campaign, he suggested council housing could be transferred to private housing associations.

The centre-piece of Mr Prescott's campaign was a commitment to full employment. At his opening press conference, he was caught into a commitment to reducing unemployment to 2.5 per cent or down to 700,000, from which he distanced himself as the campaign progressed.

More worrying for Mr Blair will be Mr Prescott's avowed support for progressive taxation. He believes the rich should pay more. The argument will be over the point at which taxpayers should qualify as rich.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower