Saturday, July 22, 2006

Press Vultures Continue to Circle Prescott

Peter Riddell isn't a political commentator given to hyperbole. He uses it sparingly, so when he indulges in it you know he means it. Under the headline BLAIR'S PATHETIC DEPUTY IS NO LONGER 'FIT FOR PURPOSE, THIS is what he says about John Prescott's position today...

John Prescott has become a pathetic figure, despised by his Cabinet colleagues, Labour MPs and senior civil servants. Even in his reduced role as Cabinet committee chairman, he is no longer fit for purpose and is now hurting Tony Blair. The main argument for Mr Prescott was that he represented a political ballast in the Cabinet, connecting Mr Blair with its traditional working-class roots, and anchoring the tricky Blair-Brown relationship. But these roles have now been undermined by Mr Prescott’s failings and his ministerial record has been patchy-to-weak at best, as epitomised by the fiasco over elected regional assemblies. Mr Prescott has been foolish and arrogant rather than corrupt. This episode, coming after his earlier troubles, reinforces the image of Mr Prescott as an arrogant bully. What is important is not whether he had an affair, that is an issue for him and his wife, but the impression that he does not understand proper behaviour for a minister in office. Resignation hunting can be a fatuous, and often selfrighteous, exercise. In Mr Prescott’s case it is not just one offence, but an accumulation of incidents each further undermining his reputation and credibility. The popular notion that Mr Prescott will somehow be “in charge of the country” when Mr Blair starts his holidays in a fortnight is absurd. Any decisions on the Lebanon war, or Iraq and the like, will be taken by Mr Blair wherever he is. Mr Prescott’s role will be marginal and probably comic. Mr Blair has mishandled the affair by not recognising either its seriousness or the steady erosion in Mr Prescott’s political position. The Prime Minister has not wanted a deputy leadership election reopening all the wounds in the Labour Party. But now Mr Blair is himself vulnerable. He risks criticism, and worse, by retaining a deputy who is such an embarrassment.

Interestingly most of the papers follow the lead of the Evening Standard yesterday and have not fallen for the Prescott spin that Sir Philip Mawer's report was a slap on the wrist. This is from Sam Coates in The Times...

In his most trenchant report yet, Sir Philip Mawer, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, said that the Deputy Prime Minister’s trip to Philip Anschutz’s ranch raised serious ethical problems that the Prime Minister needed to address. "Might Mr Prescott’s acceptance of Mr Anschutz’s invitation reasonably be thought likely to influence his actions in the capacity of both a member and a minister? In my submission, yes,” he said... Yesterday Mr Prescott’s credibility was undermined further with the emergence of e-mails showing ministers ordering civil servants in 2003 to investigate whether they could fast-track a casino for the Dome owners. The inquiry came from Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who then had ministerial responsibilty for gambling. Pressure on Mr Prescott was growing with many Labour MPs saying privately that he had become a damaging embarrassment to the party. One loyalist Labour MP said: “I don’t know of a Labour MP who thinks that John Prescott should still be deputy leader. But there is no mechanism for getting rid of Prescott and if you pull one string you could unravel the whole cardigan.”

The Times editorial calls on Mr Prescott to quit, under the headline TIME TO GO...

If John Prescott were in any other walk of life, he would have spent yesterday afternoon clearing his desk. Only in politics can you commit serial errors of judgment, break the rules of your job, admit error 11 months after the fact — and then only after being found out — yet be told to carry on regardless. In a fortnight Mr Prescott, who, it must be remembered, however fanciful it sounds, continues to serve as Deputy Prime Minister, will be notionally running the country while Tony Blair is on holiday; never has the thought been more incongruous. Mr Blair is, for the time being, simply refusing to get rid of him; never has the Prime Minister appeared so weak. Politicians depend on credibility. Without it they cannot survive. Mr Prescott used to have sufficient stature to play an important role within the Labour Party, but no more. His affair with his diary secretary robbed him of dignity and public credibility. The disclosures of his dealings with Mr Anschutz, and the way he has wriggled since their disclosure in The Times, have revealed his political judgment to be woeful. He is a joke to the public, an irrelevance to civil servants and an embarrassment to his party. His continuation in office serves no purpose other than to raise questions about the judgment of Mr Blair.

Colin Brown writes in The Independent...

Mr Blair continued to veto calls for an inquiry by Sir John Bourn, whom he appointed to investigate ministerial conflicts of interest, in the wake of the controversy surrounding Tessa Jowell and her husband, David Mills. However, the MPs and Sir Philip called on Mr Blair to abandon his veto over the investigation of such allegations in the future and to make Sir John wholly independent. Sir Philip told BBC Radio 4: "This is a gap and it needs to be filled." Sir Alistair Graham, chairman of the committee on standards in public life, backed Sir Philip, saying: "I remain concerned that the new arrangements for an investigation by Sir John Bourn ... were not invoked in this case at the time when the allegations were made."

Interestingly, The Sun follows the sentiment of The Times editorial and highlights the growing concerns about Prescott taking over from Blair in a few days time. David Wooding writes in The Sun...

John Prescott’s reputation was in tatters last night after he was monstered by anti-sleaze watchdogs... His attempts to wriggle off the hook were also exposed in a bombshell official report. It rips apart Prezza’s claim he was cleared by civil servants to stay at billionaire Philip Anschutz’s ranch... Last night he was under renewed pressure to quit as MPs called for a fresh inquiry. A senior Labour colleague said: “Someone should put him out of his misery.”

...while The Sun Editorial has this wise advice for Tony Blair...

It beggars belief Britain is about to be placed in John Prescott’s pudgy hands. We always knew he was sleazy and incompetent. But yesterday’s report into the ranch scandal reveals him as a shifty freeloader with no regard for rules that keep MPs and ministers on the straight and narrow. After the Tracey Temple affair Prescott was stripped of all responsibility. Except, somehow, the enormous responsibility for running Britain in the PM’s absence. Tony, we deserve better.

George Jones writes in the Telegraph...

John Prescott's credibility as Deputy Prime Minister was in tatters last night after a report from the parliamentary standards watchdog questioned his judgment in staying at the ranch of an American gambling tycoon bidding to open Britain's first super-casino... Sir Philip rejected the Labour spin that the report amounted to "a slap on the wrist" for Mr Prescott. He said a critical report could not simply be brushed off because "reputation" was critical to an MP's credibility. Sir Philip and MPs on the cross-party standards and privileges committee also left open the question of whether Mr Prescott broke the ministerial code of conduct as well as the rulebook for MPs, for which they are responsible... Hugo Swire, the Conservative culture spokesman, said: "The Prime Minister cannot ignore the now overwhelming view that, by staying at the ranch and accepting gifts, Mr Prescott breached the code. Mr Prescott should not be left to run the country with this damning indictment hanging over him."

The Telegraph's editorial is even more damning...

Now even that flimsiest of defences - that John Prescott's behaviour was technically within the letter of the rules - has been torn away. This newspaper has been calling for some time for the Deputy Prime Minister to go, not because he infracted this or that code, but because he is an oaf who has fouled up every policy he has touched. That the Prime Minister should seek to hang on to him, despite his breach of the rules on ministerial conduct that Tony Blair introduced with such fanfare, tells you everything you need to know about the shamelessness of this administration.

Kirsty Walker in the Daily Mail hgihlights the small-print in Sir Philip's report...

John Prescott was fighting for his political life last night after sleaze watchdogs found him guilty of a potential conflict of interest over his over his links with the billionaire owner of the Dome... The committee noted that although he eventually registered the trip, it was 'eleven months late' and only after a complaint had been lodged against him. Although the MPs fell short of recommending disciplinary action, the report is more hard-hitting than expected and goes beyond the mild 'slap on the wrist' that was being spun by friends of Mr Prescott. The committee concluded: "We share the Commissioner's view, which Mr Prescott came to accept in light of further advice.. that the nature of his relationship with Mr Anschutz meant that he was accepting hospitality form a source that might reasonably have been though likely to influence ministerial action.." The report also criticises Mr Prescott for not telling his Permanent Secretary Dame Mavis McDonald about presents including a pair of tooled leather boots, a Stetson hat, a belt bearing his initials on a silver buckle and a leather bound notebook. Sir Philip revealed that the Deputy Prime Minister failed to come clean about this fact until later on in his inquiry - when he admitted that the list of gifts were only 'made available for inspection' by Dame Mavis. Mr Prescott said: "There was no correspondence between my private office and my Permanent Secretary about these gifts - though she did see at least some of the Anschutz gifts when they were displayed in the office on their arrival." And despite Mr Prescott's claims that the trip was backed by his permanent secretary, the report found that "final judgement as to the wisdom of accepting the hospitality was a matter for Mr Prescott himself". Despite initial claims from his department that he was enjoying a 'day off', it later emerged that Mr Prescott had donated around £324 of public money to a July 7 charity in the way of payment for the stay. Sir Philip said: "Might Mr Prescott's acceptance of Mr Anschutz's invitation reasonably be thought likely to influence his actions in the capacity of both a member and minister? In my submission, yes. "There was in my view a real risk that his acceptance of Mr Anschutz's hospitality could create a perception that Ministerial action could be influenced, not only departmentally, but more widely as a result. " Sir Philip added that Mr Prescott's decision to donate money to charity in 'no way offset this risk'. He added: "The stay taken as a whole, while broadly educational, was also a pleasant and a necessary interlude in an otherwise busy and no doubt tiring ministerial programme. It is therefore to be seen as involving an offer, and the acceptance, or significant hospitality." The Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell later told Mr Prescott that he would not have authorised a charitable donation and advised him to register the visit. In an interview yesterday, Sir Philip - who has been criticised for being too soft on ministers in the past - spared no punches as he launched a scathing attack on Mr Blair's refusal to appoint an independent investigation into breaches of the ministerial code. He said: "I don't see it as a mild slap on the wrist. When you report critically of an MP - however low or high - it is not simply something to be brushed off."

And in quite the most bizarre article, The Guardian's Michael White writes: The war of Prezza's stetson is not over yet. But the political bloggers have lost the first round. He then goes on to write 400 words of drivel without actually mentioning blogs or attempting to justify that rather odd assertion. If you want to read the whole thing click HERE, but I really wouldn't bother. Michael is developing an unhealthy obsession with making snide assertions about bloggers. He really shouldn't provoke Guido even further.

So there you have it. Apologies for the length of this roundup (and indeed the lateness), but I thought it worthwhile doing it because it does show that contrary to my suspicions, the press isn't willing to leave Johnny P alone. Good.

8 comments:

beethoven writes said...

A word of advice for any journos criticising bloggers : it will come back to haunt you!

Chuck Unsworth said...

Well, that's pretty consistent. Any news on what The Sport editorial says about Prescott? Maybe they've good some good snaps of that stunna Rosie, eh?

Cybez said...

Iain,
Have you seen your Dr about your OCPBD. I'm sure until the inevitable happens he'd be able to help in some way. Then when the inevitable happens how will you cope with such a gaping void in your life? ;-)

OCPBD - Obsessive Compulsive Prescott Blogging Disorder

Graham E said...

Don't like Prescott and never have but how sad to witness the pathetic spectacle of him clinging on like an oversize leech.How demeaning for him to be trying to bluff it out in the face of almost unanimous contemt.How pitiful that he will only be remembered for his lack of morals, integrity, honour or honesty.

Expat said...

Maybe you, Guido, the Mail and Max Clifford or whoever has them should run the stories are reputedly being held for August when Pre$₤a (abuses the Ministerial Code in dollars and pounds) takes over running the country. If Pre$₤a goes this week, then the story will not be as much fun and God forbib some papers may have started to be sympathetic to the jobless wretch. Mine's a G&T.

Expat said...

"only be remembered for his lack of morals, integrity, honour or honesty" _ I do not think so graham e.
What remembering him for his inability to speak in sentences, his complete and utter ignorance, his loutish behaviour, his addiction to the trapping of wealth (especially other people’s wealth) and the fact that the tosser will be drawing a pension from the taxpayers for the rest of his miserable life.

Anonymous said...

Surely it's time for a ceasefire? Prezza is surely a 'useful idiot' to have in post to help Blair out?

Anonymous said...

'Peter Riddell not given to hyperbole' - hahaha