Thursday, January 20, 2005


British Political Figures #1 - John Prescott

An occasional series profiling leading figures in British politics

John Prescott is the British "Deputy Prime Minister". In other words, Tony Blair's deputy. It's not strictly true to say that he is equivalent to the US Vice President, because, at least officially, Britain is a constitutional monarchy rather than a representative republic, and Tony is not, other than in his own mind, the President. You can see John Prescott's official bio here.

John is famous for several things. He is well and truly aboard the British anti-car bandwagon. This is despite one, or rather two, main drawbacks: his collection of Jaguars. And his official Government limo, of course. Once at a party conference he had his driver drive himself and his wife 200 yards to avoid her hair being blown by the wind. But according to John, seventy year old widows have to drag their shopping home on the bus, risking assault by out of control schoolkids or stray "care in the community" pond life, to protect the environment! Of course.

It's a bit risky to call John out about this. The other thing he's famous for, as you can see, is his tendency to debate with his fists. But if he gave you this look it might serve as a bit of a warning, don't you think?

John owes his position to the fact that his boss, Tony, isn't really a Labour politician at all. He's actually a Conservative. After the Thatcher revolution, the British electorate convincingly and repeatedly rejected state socialism, which was all the Labour party of the time offered. When Blair became leader in 1994 he realised the only way he was ever going to get the top job was to move Labour's political views nearer those of the Conservatives. However, the party at that time had a large number of traditional Labour movement members steeped in the party's activist past - veterans of many a picket line, go-slow, lock-out, and well organised riot.

Therefore, Tony appointed John, a firebrand traditional left winger, as a sop to this body. As it has been increasingly sidelined in Labour and replaced by the liberal intellectual tofu eating holiday home in France tendency, he has remained, isolated and irrelevant, frozen in time, like a chunk of Berlin wall unaccountably left in the middle of a bustling market square, which people do not really notice.

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