Mark Steel: Will anyone remember this grumpy old man?

Ten years after Prescott pledged to double Labour's membership, it has actually halved
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The Independent Online

That's all slightly embarrassing, then, that the Iraqi government we're desperate to hand power to is made up of people who wear hoods and use their mobiles to take pictures of violence so they can show them to their mates. If they were in Britain, instead of putting them in charge, we'd be banning them from shopping centres.

It's a mark of how far New Labour has gone that it was a surprise yesterday, when Prescott was asked about images of the hanging of Saddam Hussein and called them "deplorable". Because it wouldn't be out of character if he'd said: "Here, have you seen this one? I've downloaded that as a screensaver."

But even then he wouldn't criticise the Iraqi government, just "whoever was responsible". Well who else could it have been taking pictures and shouting at Saddam as he's hanged? Does the execution room share an office with a minicab firm?

But it was the rest of Prescott's interview that said so much about the state of New Labour. For 11 minutes he snarled and howled and yelled like an EastEnders character, but without the wit or charm or intellect, fuming with incoherence until his blotches somehow came out on the radio, snapping phrases such as: "Yeah, that's typical!", so that if you didn't know who it was, you'd think, "Why are they humiliating that poor old man, and who sold him the Tennent's Extra this early in the morning?"

At one point, he shouted to the interviewer he wanted to get off the subject of Saddam and on to New Labour's splendid record: "Because it's the listeners listening to this interview - you and I." Work that one out as a new year quiz. Is he somehow confused between doing an interview and being one of the listeners? That would explain his grumpiness. He'd have been thinking: "Shut up asking me questions, I'm trying to listen to this interview."

Then he said: "If you look at my record, I'm quite prepared to actually show that that record what I've done in that period of time within in all areas which I'm putting down at the moment and eventually want to justify to people." And about one third of these words were screamed, as if someone switched on a random "yell" shuffle mode, so not only have you no idea what word will come next but it could be at any possible volume.

Perhaps adverts will start appearing in newspapers, claiming: "You can speak fluent Prescott in just three weeks!", and you fall asleep listening to a tape going: "In as much that in your up Abu Ghraib, as I've already said if you listen..."

The interviewer mentioned that Tony Blair was in "a pop star's mansion in Florida". At which point Prescott interrupted at his angriest, roaring "That's another BBC interpretation. It's factually correct to say that's where he is." So he was just as furious when agreeing.

I wondered whether he'd carry on: "You say Mister Blair is Prime Minister, which makes me sick because he's actuality Prime Minister, but with regard to Robin Gibb, who you've mentioned Mister Blair residing at, as he says we're living within all areas in a world of fools, when in fact we belong to you and me, which is the listeners, but how much deepness has your love?"

Instead, he wrong-footed us by insisting: "The core coalition of New Labour was New Labour and Old Labour." That's one for the philosophers, whether something can be a combination of itself and something else. With stuff like that, he could become a Buddhist monk, sitting in a robe, holding the hands of followers and telling them gently: "My friend, the apple is part apple and part lemon. Now use this knowledge wisely."

It's an apt area for Prescott to study, because he manages to be a classic blend of all that's sickly about New Labour, combined with all that was rotten with Old Labour. Yet like his colleagues, he appears to live in such a distant bubble he assumes he's still popular. As if he's a common hero, because although he has crawled to big business and George Bush as much as Blair, at least he's done it while fat and in a northern accent.

When his true popularity is symbolised by the statistic that this week, 10 years after he pledged to double Labour's membership, in that time it has actually halved.

So he's in for a shock. Once he's retired, instead of being greeted by adoring fans, he'll be forgotten quickly, eventually touring hospital radio stations begging them to interview him so he can interrupt them loudly, until he slides into a drunken stupor yelling at passers-by from a shop doorway. With the Shakespearean twist that he'll actually be more coherent than when he was the Deputy Prime Minister of Britain.