John Prescott really does have two Jags. He didn’t when he was Deputy Prime Minister, but he does now. His old XJS is too low slung for Pauline, his wife, to gain an elegant exit, he claims. So, he had to buy a second hand Sovereign to restore marital balance. Well you would wouldn’t you.
He’s also picked up a speeding fine, he told the Edinburgh Book Festival last week, because he’s so used to being driven around in a government car, he didn’t know about 20 mile an hour speed limits. Mind you, since he was transport minister when these zones were introduced that’s a pretty strange admission.
Prescott talks as if he had just been released been in prison, rather than the post of Deputy Prime Minister, but perhaps the two aren’t all that different. Government, like jail, is a total institution which insulates you from the outside world.
Prescott WAS the outside world to the “beautiful people” - as he calls them - who ran New Labour. He was meant to be the link with the party’s socialist roots. But after speaking to him at length last week I get the distinct impression that he feels he was used. He was excluded from strategy meetings; once invited to Chequers; kept in the dark.
But should we have any sympathy for Prescott who, if he was used, clearly allowed himself to be out of vanity?
Well, it’s hard not to like him as he tells stories about how he used to box for the entertainment of Anthony Eden. In the 1950s, merchant seamen were expected to put on a show for VIPs during the voyage. Prezza is of course a useful pugilist, as he demonstrated in the 2001 election campaign when he floored that countryside protester with the mullet.
Prescott is 50% Bernard Manning and he has well-rehearsed lines about everything, even that croquet match in Dorneywood, his official residence. He claims that sales of croquet sets increased by 40% and that British Croquet Association has given him a ceremonial mallet in gratitude for his services to the sport.
But is Prescott simply a refugee from a working man’s club? Well, he was Deputy Prime Minister for ten years - the longest serving DPM in history. He was marriage guidance counsellor to Gordon Brown and Tony Blair and probably prevented their relationship falling apart.
But the tragedy of Prescott’s long career is that he really did believe all that stuff about the “many and not the few”. He was one of the last socialists in Labour Party, but he ended up legitimising a project which erased all trace of socialism. I fear his image will forever be that Steve Bell cartoon depicting Prezza as a bulldog with its mouth zipped shut.