John Prescott has claimed that he advised Gordon Brown to seek a coalition with Nick Clegg after the general election in May. Speaking to Radio 5 Live, the former deputy prime minister said that he feared that David Cameron would used Clegg to “introduce a much more savage policy”.
This revelation is somewhat surprising, given that the famously tribalist Prescott stonewalled a potential coalition between Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown in 1997, threatening to resign over the issue.
Speaking about this in 2000, he said, “Liberals want to do what is in their interests, but it is not in ours. You shouldn’t do anything like that, and I don’t believe in it anyway” – a far cry from his reported conversation with Brown last year.
In the Radio 5 interview, Prescott – not renowned for his discretion – also came very close to calling Brown a bully. He said that Sarah Brown’s perception of her husband was unique, giving the example: “I heard her say Gordon’s not a bully”.
Here’s the transcript of the interview:
John Prescott: Well if he’d have done the deal with Clegg, and to be quite honest, I did ring and tell him he should have done a deal, as a coalition.
Richard Bacon: He should?
JP: Not many people know about that. Because I thought that the consequences of a Tory-Liberal would be terrible for a coalition. Isn’t that so? I know there were some of my colleagues – I think it was David Blunkett and John Reid – were very strong there shouldn’t be a coalition. Well I hope they’re looking at the mess we’ve got at the moment and asking themselves whether that was the right judgement.
RB: I remember very clearly John Reid saying there should not be a coalition. I did not know – I think this is new information – that you had rung Gordon Brown and said that there should be a coalition.
JP: I know but it’s for Gordon to make the judgement. I give my view. David Blunkett and John Reid decided to go on the airways together – ah “David has said and I agree with him”, “John has said and I agree with him” and they launched this major tack against it. Well you can have that view, that’s theirs. My fear was, what we’d see with Cameron using Clegg, he would then introduce a much more savage policy. That’s what happened.
RB: Tell me what happened in that conversation with Gordon Brown when you said he should pursue the coalition.
JP: Well I said to him, “Make sure for God’s sake if we’re going to have to live with a Cameron-Clegg, that will be disastrous. I’m quite prepared to accept that you should do a coalition with Clegg.”
RB: What did he say?
JP: He said that’s what he was trying to do, I think we all knew that. Then we came to believe that Clegg wasn’t serious and is more in line with Tories. He was right in that judgement. Now we’ve got two Tories running it.
And his comments on bullying:
JP: Well she [Sarah Brown] had a view of Gordon that is going to be unique to her, isn’t it, from the public relations? I heard her say Gordon’s not a bully. Well I would – some people would call me a bully. If you’re a strong person in politics and you want to get things done you have to push it, and Gordon certainly pushed it.
RB: So he was a bully?
JP: Well, Gordon was a man with strong conviction of view and many people thought him rather intimidating. I think most people write that, don’t they? I thought he was a great guy and I worked with him.
RB: Does his behaviour in No.10 fit with your definition of a bully?
JP: No. I think – no. People, if you remember – the press and Littlejohn and all these people were writing about me being a bully, and that was totally untrue.