Leading article: The political storm clouds are gathering over Mr Blair


The Deputy Prime Minister admitted yesterday that he had "behaved stupidly" in conducting an affair with his political diary secretary, Tracey Temple. Were there not other strong candidates for the accolade - how about the Home Secretary's disclosure that "very few" (meaning 288) of the missing foreign prisoners had been released after he was alerted to the problem? - John Prescott's admission might have stood a good chance of being recognised as the understatement of the year.

Stupid is the very least of it. Never among the heaviest political hitters in the Government, Mr Prescott nonetheless had his place. His presence allowed Tony Blair to claim that he had not betrayed the working-class roots of the Labour Party. He was a reputed honest broker, in touch with the party rank and file. It would be up to him, it was said, to inform the Prime Minister when it was time to quit - and, it was confidently predicted, Mr Blair would have no choice but to listen.

Now, even that measure of authority has gone. It is not only the lurid, if puerile, claims of Ms Temple that have destroyed it, but Mr Prescott's belligerent response. Yes, he did have a relationship, but Ms Temple had published her diaries to "maximise financial gain". This is not a good start to a dignified defence of the indefensible. The odds on John Prescott holding on to his job are now judged so poor that some bookmakers have suspended betting on how long he might last in office.

That there has not so far been greater pressure on Mr Prescott to resign reflects several considerations. He was regarded as a bit of a buffoon, even before the revelations: there were few illusions to be shattered. More importantly, there was a widespread understanding that, despite the title of Deputy Prime Minister, he was rather far down the government pecking order in terms of authority and responsibilities. For the time being, the case for Mr Prescott's resignation remains personal: if he leaves office, it should be for his own sake and that of his family. If, however, it turns out that he has abused the privileges of office in pursuit of his affair, his position would be untenable. Ditto if allegations now emerging about his lecherous behaviour are true: this would raise questions of unacceptable sexual harassment.

Although the loss of the Deputy Prime Minister would undoubtedly undermine Mr Blair's authority further within the parliamentary party, it is far from being the main danger to the Prime Minister and his government in the coming week. This lies in the Home Office, where officials are spending the holiday trying to track down the thousand or more foreign prisoners who should have been considered for deportation.

The more that comes out about this débâcle, the more apparent it is not only that successive Home Secretaries neglected the issue, but that such facts as have emerged have so far been presented in the best possible light. The most serious offenders may have been found on the police computer, but this does not mean their actual whereabouts is known. The call for Mr Clarke's resignation by a woman who claims she was raped by one of these offenders shows that there is at least one serious new charge going through the system. The likelihood must be that there is worse, perhaps far worse, to emerge, probably before Thursday's local elections.

A circumspect Mr Blair catered for this eventuality with his unusually equivocal support for Mr Clarke in yesterday's News of the World. It is illogical, but true, that a proven murder or rape by one of the 288 foreign prisoners released on his Home Secretary's watch could force Mr Clarke from office. And the loss of so stalwart a political ally would not only upset the balance of the Cabinet, but inevitably weaken the Prime Minister.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
Crofter's cottages on Lewis. The island's low population density makes it a good candidate for a spaceport (Alamy)  

My Scottish awakening, helped by horizontal sleet

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?