JOHN PRESCOTT raised the stakes in Labour's leadership contest yesterday when he contradicted Margaret Beckett's account of the crisis over One Member One Vote (OMOV) that engulfed the party last October.
Mr Prescott pledged that if elected as deputy leader, the post held by Mrs Beckett until John Smith's death, he would abandon any remaining differences over policy and stand by both the leader and party policy decisions.
But he underpinned his loyalty pledge by challenging a denial by Mrs Beckett, the acting Labour leader, that Mr Smith had threatened to resign during the OMOV crisis. Mr Prescott said, in an interview with the Independent, that Mr Smith 'certainly' would have resigned.
He revealed that Mr Smith had made it clear to him that he would have sought a vote of confidence from the National Executive and, if successful, would have sought to have it endorsed by the party.
The importance of the disclosures is that they will re-ignite the controversy over Mrs Beckett's role as deputy leader after criticisms last October that she declined to give Mr Smith full backing on OMOV for several days.
Mr Prescott said that he had been surprised at suggestions at the time that Mrs Beckett had not fully supported the policy. 'Margaret had sat in on the committees where we had developed this policy and hadn't indicated any major opposition to it,' he said.
The shadow Employment Secretary was emphatic that he had no intention of abandoning his candidacy for the leadership despite a widespread assumption that Tony Blair will win.
Mr Prescott said he still hoped to convince the party that it would be desirable to set a level of employment for a Labour government to aim for. But if another leader convinced the party otherwise 'then the policy would have been decided. 'What you can't do is take the privilege of arguing publicly, after an election, the difference between you and the leader. It would be damaging to the leadership concept, damaging to the party.' Any differences would be aired in private.
Last weekend Mrs Beckett strongly denied charges of disloyalty to Mr Smith over OMOV, but said there had never been 'universality of view and complete agreement between the leader and deputy leader'. She denied that Mr Smith had said he would resign.
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