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21 September 2011

John Prescott: a Liberal Democrat role model?

The Lib Dems can learn from Prescott's anti-establishment stance.

By Mark Pack

Tuesday lunchtime at Liberal Democrat conference saw me speaking at an IPPR fringe meeting on what the Liberal Democrat future strategy should be. Reaching for a striking, memorable way to make my comments stick in people’s minds in amongst the excellent other speakers at the event such as Simon Hughes, I revived a parallel that I had briefly blogged about a few months back: John Prescott.

No great surprise really that in a room with several Labour members and national journalists, this time the line spread rather wider, with some good natured (I think!) banter from John Prescott himself on Twitter and a lengthy piece from theBBC.

The point, however, is a serious one. What Prescott managed to do very successfully as a backbencher in the last years of the Labour government was both be a member of a party in power and also be consistently anti-establishment, especially in his attacks on some in the financial sector – and his mobilising of public support behind his campaigns.

For a party such as the Liberal Democrats who have such a strong tradition of anti-establishment ideology and campaigning, pulling off that combination now is all the more important. Or as Party President Tim Farron put it in a debate later in the day, “Let us become the administration but never, ever the establishment”.

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Whether it is traditional establishment forces in the financial sector wanting to see off banking reform, in the unelected House of Lords wanting to hold on to political power without that little matter of democracy or in a myriad of other places, the establishment forces are not defeated simply by having some different names on ministerial name plates.

So sorry John, but I think I’ll be using your example again in future.

Mark Pack is co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and in his third decade of conference-attending.