Mark Steel: Sorry, but Prezza's bulimia is just a trifling matter

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No wonder John Prescott could not get cured of bulimia. When the doctor asked him what was wrong he probably said, "In as much as over-consumeringness, that which is vomitatious to indigested, as you well know. Now, don't be interruption doctor, I've paid listening to how you've said – sickability, as such, of triflement and manyfold of chips, is forthcoming with each regurgitationingness of that which has undergone swallowment, both liquified and solidacious, and you can look at the reports to be backing this of certain, pukement levels have ascendified to alarmed figure, reaching frankly unprecedentious rates of outpourings that is highly inacceptable AS I HAVE SAID ALL ALONG."

And the poor doctor will have said, "You've probably got asthma" and sent him away.

It is touching, in a way, that the official response to this revelation is to be sensitive. But however serious bulimia might be, just how serious depends on who's got it. Haemorrhoids are serious but you wouldn't expect people to be sympathetic if Robert Mugabe announced: "Oo, I've had the most dreadful piles. I tell you, I can hardly sit down. I'm under so much pressure you see, all this trying to stay in power has played havoc with me grapes, I'm on FIRE down there."

Prescott's announcement has clearly upset the image of the bulimic as someone who is influenced by the skinny figures of celebrities. Because he surely wasn't looking at Heat magazine and thinking, "Hmm, if I could just shake off a few pounds I could look just like Keira Knightley."

So it is not surprising that some people have been cynical, suggesting it is a stunt to publicise his book. And some might think it suspicious that the food he sicked up was trifle, chips and condensed milk, as if he is determined to appear as a working-class bulimic, and his next statement will be, "Aye, folk say I've betrayed my roots but look at this puddle – full o' chips an' packet trifle from Co-op, not like these Tory bulimics spraying Nigella Lawson crème fraîche sorbet all over t'shop."

And it has made him seem like a sensitive soul, vulnerable and emotional so, if it makes him more popular, the other discredited Labour politicians will try something similar. Peter Mandelson will reveal he wears a wig, Charles Clarke will say he could not attend Cabinet meetings unless he was dressed as a bridesmaid, and David Blunkett will announce he is a woman trapped in a man's body. Then Prescott will start a consciousness-raising group around his new book Fat Is A Deputy Prime Minister's Issue and Blair will make a tearful speech, saying, "He is the people's bulimic."

It may well be that Prescott was driven by low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy, but whatever damage these conditions did to him, they did far more damage to the people he took his problems out on by turning him into a classic bully. Blair and Prescott were both aware of his role in New Labour. Restricting the pay of firefighters, insisting the railways stayed privatised, and reducing the influence of the unions was handed to Prescott as the man who could sell these policies to the party, by saying, "This can't be a betrayal, because I support it and I'm from the North and punch people." And he was important to Blair in supporting the Iraq war. So it is uncertain whether, among the sympathetic, there will be people hobbling on one leg amid the rubble of Fallujah saying, "But it's very brave for a man of his position to admit to an eating disorder."

Even so, Blair clearly looked down on him, which might be what gave Prescott his neurosis, as you can imagine if he was ever at No 10 when the doorbell rang, Blair would say, "Oh my God, it might be the Murdochs, they mustn't see you here. Quick, sit in the corner and pretend you're stuffed and I'll make out I captured you in Kenya."

According to a psychotherapist writing in this newspaper yesterday, bulimics tell themselves they are disgusting. So imagine the poor shrink that had to listen to Prescott saying, "I think I'm disgusting", and then summon up all his professional experience to say, "Really? Why on earth do you think that?"

Maybe to boost his self-esteem he will appear on Channel 4's How To Look Good Naked, and we will see him in soft focus, draped over a chaise longue, weeping with joy as he says, "Ee, I'm finally feeling dead comfortableness and happyment in mental de-blubberation."

But the real tragedy of this man is that for much of his life he was full of fire and spirit, helping to lead a campaign for better pay and conditions for his fellow seamen and becoming a powerful voice against the bullying of the Conservatives. And he chucked it all in to become a bully himself, so much so that when he brings out a book about his life, the only bit of that life anyone is interested in is that he ate a load of trifle and sicked it back up again.

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