Prescott leads Blair drive on Chicago

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The Independent Online
Over tea and cakes at a downtown Chicago hotel, John Prescott, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, added a new word to the English language. "You can't Clintonise British politics," he said.

The occasion was a reception on Sunday afternoon to celebrate the launch of the Chicago branch of the Labour Party - one of a host of events on the fringes of the Democratic Party National Convention extravaganza.

What, Mr Prescott was asked, did he mean by the word "Clintonise"? Did he intend it as a compliment? "No, I didn't," he replied emphatically. "It means that you are more concerned with images than with ideas." The Labour Party had tried that game in the 1992 British election and it had failed. The lesson from that failure, he said, was that "you cannot win simply on image and presentation, you have to put forward ideas".

There again, Mr Prescott added, betraying a little confusion as to the exact meaning of the word he had just coined, "if Clintonisation meant winning elections, I'd be in for that".

It is with this second possible meaning in mind that Mr Prescott has come to Chicago at the head of a Labour delegation whose mission it will be to pick up some tips, in anticipation of the election in Britain, from the Democratic Party's master campaign strategists.

To announce the delegation's arrival in the Windy City, Mr Prescott hit upon the stratagem of staging an event to honour the founding of Labour International's Chicago branch - the fifth of its kind in the US, the other four being in Washington, New York, Boston and Los Angeles.

A local expatriate, Jackie Navin, hosted the proceedings. Ms Navin said that Labour International boasted 250 members in the US. Worldwide the number was 1,100 "and growing all the time". A document headed "Your vote could make a world of difference" revealed that Labour International had offices in, among other places, Columbia, Benidorm and Slovenia.

Mr Prescott, aware that the Conservative Party has displayed more resourcefulness than Labour in courting overseas British voters, said that expatriate Labour votes could make the difference between victory and defeat in marginal parliamentary seats. In the last general election there were a few constituencies where the number of registered overseas voters was greater than the size of the Conservative majorities. Labour International branches "can have a very considerable political effect", he said.

Just how valuable an electoral resource Labour voters abroad could prove to be was demonstrated, Mr Prescott said, by the fact that some 10 million British expatriates were scattered around the world. "About a million are estimated to be in the United States."

Accompanying Mr Prescott was Chris Smith, the party's health spokesman. Mr Smith described the function of Labour International in the US as "essential", intimating that it could serve as an unofficial foreign intelligence service for the party.

Just how essential the role of Chicago might be in ousting John Major's government appears to be a matter of debate, however. Sunday's audience, treated to an hour and a half of Labour speechmaking, was attended by 60 people, a quarter of whom were representatives of the media; a quarter MEPs; and a quarter representatives of the local British Consulate General. The remainder appeared to be potential British voters.

Ms Navin, when pressed, revealed that "upwards of 20" people are considering joining Labour International in Chicago.