Breaking: John Prescott appears to back David Miliband, contrary to reports

Former deputy PM, loved in the Labour party, speaks out over the leadership

John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister who holds considerable sway in the Labour party, appears to be backing David Miliband for leader, contrary to reports. There has been speculation in Westminster over which leadership candidate is preferred by Prescott, who has so far refused publicly to endorse because he is running to be Treasurer of the party. But apparently after one claim at the weekend that he is backing Ed Miliband, Prescott has posted a some revealing words on his blog today:

I had a few calls yesterday asking me about a piece by Anne McElvoy in the Sunday Times which claimed that along with Neil Kinnock I was supporting Ed Miliband.

These interviews were conducted before the General Election and on the penultimate day of campaigning while Gordon Brown was still our leader and way before any candidate announced they'd be standing.

I've decided not to publicly endorse a candidate as I'm running for the post of Treasurer and if elected, would have to work with whoever becomes leader.

But what I can do is point people to this blog I posted after watching the leadership hustings on Sky News last Sunday.

Here's what I said:

"It's true that all candidates acknowledged our mistakes and made calls for change, consistent with traditional values in a modern setting.

"But whoever is elected leader to hold the Lib Con Coalition government to account and lead our party back to Government, will need to highlight Labour's achievements alongside their new progressive policy agenda and campaign hard to promote both.

"On this occasion, it seems the clearest defence of the Labour Government's real achievements over 13 years came from David Miliband.

"David said: "We have to defend it with an absolute passion because if we trash our record no-one's going to believe us in the future."

"David has also rightly made much of the importance of greater campaigning and organisation.

"So it would be good if all the candidates during future television debates and meetings make greater prominence of our achievements."

I still stand by these comments.

If I am right and Prescott is backing David Miliband, his support shows that the DM campaign has succeeded in broadening its base after an endorsement last week from Dennis Skinner. Like Skinner, Prescott is essentially an instinctive party tribalist and loyalist, ultimately concerned, his friends say, with who is best placed to beat the Tories. His influence on the party was demonstrated when he swung conference delegates round to back One Member One Vote in 1993.

Prescott has not publicly revealed who he backs. But this may be as close as we are going to get to an endorsement from the big man.

UPDATE: Jason Beattie referred to Prescott's probably backing of David on 5 September.


James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.