The Sketch: Prescott and Ancram get down and dirty in the House

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The deputies were playing at leaders yesterday. At least we get to see how difficult it is, leading.

The deputies were playing at leaders yesterday. At least we get to see how difficult it is, leading.

Tony Blair and Michael Howard are Corinthian in their exchanges compared with John Prescott and Michael Ancram. The Commons descended happily to the designated level, hooting and howling, baying and barking at the absurd claims and ridiculous counter-claims.

The bluster, the rubbish, the full squalor of the House was magnificent. Haven't seen its like since the heydays of the last Tory leader (William Hague, if memory serves).

The Deputy Prime Minister's linguistics are famous and rightly so. I particularly liked three neologisms. "My Honourable Member" was the first. We don't often hear MPs talking so affectionately and so intimately about something so close to their heart; then there was the "e-bargo on the china", a sort of concrete poetry of the Potteries we'll save until our old age to construe. And finally, a figure new to mathematics, "four thousand and one six hundred".

But John Prescott is much more than a middle-class Boris Johnson. He is a highly effective politician. Outstandingly effective, in fact, and much more than Boris, at the time of writing. He is the Deputy Prime Minister. I rest my case. No I don't, but I could. Whatever is done with the power, a successful politician is one who acquires it. And Mr P has enormous power over enormous funds. He says go, and millions go. He says come and millions go even further.

The fact that he is an administrative disaster is of secondary importance. Indeed, irrelevance, you suggest? You are cynical, but I'll go along with you.

So what about the mental capacity? He isn't thick. There are no front-bench politicians you could describe as thick. Except Hilary Armstrong, obviously. It was a worry to see him relying on her briefing yesterday. True, that was a bit thick.

But Mr Prescott invented the private finance initiative in the early 1980s, you know. That was a very big idea for one brain. And he refused to renationalise the buses up north on the grounds that the last thing the nation needed was a fleet of run-down buses to maintain.

But if your admiration is running away with you, don't let yourself base your financial future on his plans, not unless the spiritual benefits of poverty attract you. His enormous plan to build the slums of the future is bad enough. But he is going to get poor people to buy a million of his new £60,000 houses in the South-east. Don't you be one: the only property category to have lost significant value in the last three years is new-built flats (they are 17 per cent down).

We lose the countryside, and the slum-dwellers lose their shirts. It's a lose-lose situation; it takes a real politician to bring that off, in this day and age.