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HE'LL STAY ON THE JOB; PREZZA: MY AFFAIR (as Deputy Prime Minister, that is).

Byline: KEVIN MAGUIRE

BOUNCING back is a John Prescott speciality. The Deputy Prime Minister is a past master at turning adversity to his advantage.

Tony Blair feared the worst when the one-time boxer sensationally delivered a crushing left hook to the jaw of an egg-throwing election protester.

But Prezza the vigilante refused to apologise and was promptly hailed a hero by the country for fighting back against a yobbo yokel half his age.

Neil Kinnock demoted a bolshie Prezza during the Tory era to lowly Transport spokesman when the mouth of the Humber refused to button his lip.

Yet the old sea dog made a huge success of the brief and turned it into a springboard to the deputy leadership.

Now, Prezza is home in Hull, begging forgiveness from cheated wife Pauline after a reckless affair with a secretary young enough to be his daughter.

He has publicly embarrassed them both and Prescott Towers must be an unhappy place this spring.

The jury of Labour MPs was out yesterday over pensioner Prezza's fling. Some called him an old sleazebag, complaining Prezza's inability to keep his trousers up made Labour look like John Major's sex-crazed Tories.

Others thought it a great hoot, joking he'll be the Saga magazine centre spread and his zest for life is a beacon of hope for all over-65s.

But either faction would be guilty of a grave mistake if they write the political obituary of an extraordinary man who made it to the top by sheer guts, hard work and more ability than he's given credit for.

The 11-plus failure, still called "Giovanni" by Tory toffs who can't stomach the success of an ex-steward on ocean liners, may well bounce back again.

Prezza will stay Deputy PM unless a humiliating fact, devastating incident or vengeful person pops up to deliver the knock-out blow he's successfully dodged over four tumultuous decades.

His working class roots and tough start to life mean Prezza is able to reach parts of Labour's support unmoved by the jargon and slick presentation of the Blairs, Browns and the rest.

And as Deputy PM he is the one Cabinet member who can broker an orderly transfer of power between the outgoing Premier and the incoming PM.

HIS "Honest John" act looks a little less convincing 24 hours on from the revelation of his romps but he's the only ringmaster the Government has.

Bad news came in a three for Blair this week, with the Home Secretary left praying for a death row reprieve after his department freed 900 criminals to roam the streets instead of deporting them.

Charles Clarke's resignation offer was rejected by No 10 and his abject apologies to the House of Commons failed to stem opposition calls for his sacking.

The Health Secretary endured a thousand suppositories as nurses showed they're no angels by booing, heckling and slow handclapping a speech at their Bournemouth conference.

Patricia Hewitt's ordeal was excruciating, trapped on a podium with nowhere to run, as she was abused by health workers for the second time this week.

Then there is Prezza, the third senior Cabinet Minister on the rack in a government under siege from events that have slipped far beyond its control.

The PM must feel his luck has run out, a toxic combination of events battering on his Downing Street door.

By contrast, his colleague-cum-rival Gordon Brown chatted easily yesterday about saving the world's children with pneumatic Tomb Raider star Angelina Jolie.

Prezza has fought hard to get where he is and isn't the type to give up when the going gets tough.

It won't be easy to bounce back, but it never was.

A marital crisis can crush or make a man - so we're about to find out what type of bloke Prezza really is.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 27, 2006
Words:638
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