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Politcally Incorrect: Chris Buckland's column.

Blair fumes at Two Jags John in driving seat

EVEN on one of his good days it is not difficult to tell the difference between Mr John Prescott and a little ray of sunshine. And these are not good days for the Deputy Prime Minister.

His friends say that Mr Grumpy has become Mr Exceedingly Grumpy.

It's not just that he won the first prize last week as the man who most mangles the English language, though even that sort of criticism always sends him into a sulk.

Nor is it reports that five of his key aides have quit, claiming he is working them too hard as they go round and round in ever decreasing circles.

It is more that Mr Prescott has gradually become the butt of the Government, blamed for everything that goes wrong from a broken traffic light to a mangelwurzel with blight.

That's the trouble with having an all-embracing title longer than that Welsh railway station whose name requires a foot-long platform ticket.

But if the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions carries a dark cloud over his head like a fashion accessory, stand clear. There is much worse to come.

With a re-shuffle of his Cabinet due early next month, the Prime Minister must be wondering whatever he can do with his troublesome deputy.

There are some in the higher reaches of the Labour Party who think Mr Prescott would be better employed strengthening the links between the New Labour Government and the Old Labour remnants in the constituencies and trade unions.

Wasn't that supposed to be his strength? Did not one of the most senior party apparatchiks recently whisper in horrified tones: "I dare not even THINK what would happen if Tony and John fell out"?

Mr Blair has plenty of reasons to want to move his sidekick, though I suspect he would rather face Slobodan Milosevic's entire mechanised battalions dressed only in a posing pouch than force that particular confrontation.

It is certainly untrue that the Prime Minister went nuclear face-to-face with his deputy after being driven at high speed in the new red "bus only lane" on the M4 past miles of jammed and fuming voters - the very people Mr Blair had spent years trying to convince Labour was safe and who he now saw cursing his party.

No, Mr Blair had already expressed his displeasure at his deputy for a transport shambles even worse than the one left behind by the Tories. Mr "Two Jags" Prescott might like to travel in the fast lane, but clearly has no intention of allowing anyone else to.

With the promise of 10 years of worsening jams and the London Underground falling apart round our ears the Tories will be on a winner once they get their act together, as Mr Blair's "Sierra man" is taxed dry to force him onto a public transport system that would shame Bangladesh.

Of course, Mr P was put in his job because Chancellor Gordon Brown keeps strict control of the purse strings. The trouble is that he can really upset the voters who see road tolls and parking taxes coming, their trains going nowhere slowly and their council taxes racing ahead of inflation - all courtesy of the man from Hull.

Mr Blair may have declared himself 100 per cent proof New Labour last week, but he will need more than a few belts of that brew before he dares try to drag Mr Prescott from his beloved status-symbol title.

Despite all the current plotting, that will only happen after another election victory.

So, if you're planning a car journey, leave early.

Mr Prescott won't be.

NEW Scottish Secretary Dr John Reid will be holding a "handover" dinner on Wednesday - eve of the state opening of the new Scottish parliament. But he was shocked to see his officials had only invited the lads and lassies of the Scots talking shop - and insisted that the 72 Westminster MPs from north of the border be welcomed too.

CABINET "enforcer" Dr Jack Cunningham - tipped for expulsion from the Cabinet in the coming re-shuffle (though I'm not so sure) - was spotted dining in the House of Lords last week. A Tory peer at a nearby table whispered to his colleagues: "He's getting in practice."

Plot to put Benns at war

THE veteran lefty Tony Benn looked on with justifiable pride last week when his son Hilary made his first Commons speech.

But there was dastardly plotting behind Benn Junior's victory in the recent Leeds by-election. A plan to set them at each other's throats.

It all began deep in the bowels of Labour's Millbank HQ as Party Panjandrums were becoming worried by Benn Senior's increasingly vitriolic attacks on the war against Milosevic - a battle, I was told this week, that the Government feared would not end until mid-September.

What better way to counter Old Benn's diatribes than bring in Blairite Hilary. Subtle pressure was put on the ruling National Executive from people on high to place Benn Junior on the candidates shortlist. Similar hints went to the Leeds selection committee. It was all to no avail. Mr Benn would have been chosen anyway - and the war was over before he was needed to neutralise Dad.

Hague answers Archie question

Q. Why did William Hague decide move his old chief Archie Norman from under his feet at Tory HQ?

A. Because the ASDA boss was too bossy.

The final straw came at a spring meeting of local party chairmen when the former Tory chief executive brusquely hosted a Q&A session. As the volunteers became increasingly sullen the humourless Archie told colleagues "We'll have to get a different audience next year."

PANICKING at the dismal Euro election results subsided when last Thursday's opinion poll showed Labour still miles ahead. "I feel really sorry for the Tories," said one Downing Street genuine-sounding high-up. "The number of false dawns we had in our 18 years in the wilderness..." But was that a chortle I heard as I put down the blower?

THE Lib-Dems' candidate selection committee has some rum birds come before them. One woman from the South West, who has reached the dizzying heights of a parish councillor said she would love to fight Paddy Ashdown's Yeovil seat when he quits. "But I'm not sure about having to take on the leadership when I'm elected." She passed.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Buckland, Chris
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 27, 1999
Words:1071
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