The Third Leader: Hoops, mallets and cowboy boots

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The Independent Online

Two famous Welshmen are in the news. The Scots, I see, are once again trying to claim the great wizard, Merlin (a new book alleges he was from Glasgow, no less). And Mr John Prescott has announced that he will leave the House of Commons at the next election.

You were unaware that Mr Prescott is from Wales? He was born in Prestatyn. But, for some reason, the Welsh have never made much of it. Still, he will not be entirely lost to us, as he is our chief delegate to the Council of Europe and is also being helped with his memoirs.

There have been the usual jeers, and reports of panic among Brussels interpreters. We wonder if the jeerers could produce the tiniest amount of the inspiration that has given us so many memorable moments; and phrases: "The green belt is a Labour policy and we intend to build on it", for instance.

It is, as Lord Whitelaw also ably demonstrated, the deputy's job to make the leader look good. For Mr Prescott, it was much more of a challenge, but he rose to it, left hook, mallet, secretarial duties, cowboy boots and all. And that deft touch remains: the party to announce his retirement featured Prescott Punch, mallets and hoops.

Prescott inarticulacy, though, is exaggerated. His reported comment to the press outside the party, for example, was both intelligible and unambiguous: "Bugger off." Indeed. As another interesting Welsh politician (and wizard), Lloyd George, once put it: "There are greater storms in politics than you will ever find at sea." Croquet, by the way, usually translates as croquet.

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