Leading article: Time for Mr Prescott to go

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The Independent Online

This newspaper has long ceased to see the point of John Prescott. Nine years ago, in the blissful dawn of New Labour, he played a creditable role in negotiating the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that marked an important stage in a global response to climate change. Since then, he has sometimes performed a useful political function in helping to overcome resistance from the Labour Party's conservative wing to such desirable reforms as tuition fees.

He was an unimpressive departmental minister, however, with no achievements to his name at Transport, Local Government and the Regions. His survival in the Cabinet, and in the largely ceremonial role of Deputy Prime Minister, is largely a measure of Tony Blair's weakness. That weakness gives rise to a paradox. Mr Prescott was deprived of his department as a punishment, in effect, for having an affair with his diary secretary. Then he was forced to give up his state-owned country house because he chose the wrong form of team-building at the wrong time of day (croquet, 4pm on a Thursday). But now that it has been established that he has done something directly contrary to the requirements of his public office, no action is being taken.

Mr Prescott's stay at the Colorado ranch of Philip Anschutz, the owner of the Dome, was, on the face of it, contrary to the Ministerial Code. Ministers are required to avoid accepting hospitality which "might reasonably appear to compromise their judgement or place them under an improper obligation". Mr Prescott's defence seems to be - it is not entirely clear - that the decision on whether to grant Mr Anschutz's company a licence for a super-casino will be taken by an independent panel. But it will be taken according to criteria for urban regeneration that Mr Prescott helped to draw up.

When David Blunkett, as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, was shown - by The Independent on Sunday - to have broken the Ministerial Code over his appointment as a director of a biotechnology company, he was sacked in short order. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the only reason Mr Prescott is still in office is because his departure would be so much more damaging to Mr Blair. Yet to keep him, without even attempting a full explanation of how Mr Anschutz has not been advantaged, is also deeply damaging not just to the Prime Minister, but to the whole Government's waning reputation for integrity.

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