John Prescott - Criticism and Controversies

Criticism and Controversies

Prescott has been involved in a number of controversies and incidents that have caused public concern and widespread media interest. During the 2001 election campaign, Prescott was campaigning in Rhyl when farmer Craig Evans threw an egg at him, which struck him in the neck. Prescott, a former amateur boxer, responded immediately with a straight left to the jaw. The incident, overshadowing the launch of the Labour Party manifesto on that day, was captured by numerous television crews. Tony Blair responded succinctly, stating, "John is John". A National Opinion Polls (NOP) survey found that the incident appeared to do no public harm to Prescott, and may even have benefited his standing amongst male voters.

In 2003, Prescott gave up a grace and favour home that he had rented from the RMT Union in Clapham; he had left the union in June 2002. Prescott paid £220 a month for the property — a fifth of its market value. Though he had not declared the flat in the register of members' interests, he was subsequently exonerated by MPs who overruled Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. On 12 January 2006, Prescott apologised after it was revealed that the council tax for the government flat he occupied at Admiralty House was paid for using public money, rather than his private income. He repaid the amount, which came to £3,830.52 over nearly nine years.

There have been additional controversies over sexual infidelities and harassment allegations. On 26 April 2006, Prescott admitted to having had an affair with his diary secretary, Tracey Temple, between 2002 and 2004. This two-year affair is said to have commenced after an office party and, in part, took place during meetings at Prescott's grace-and-favour flat in Whitehall. Conservative MP Andrew Robathan tabled questions in the House of Commons over John Prescott's reported entertainment of Temple at Dorneywood, his official residence, which raised questions over the possible misuse of public finances. On 7 May 2006, The Sunday Times quoted Linda McDougall, wife of Austin Mitchell, as saying that in 1978 Prescott had pushed her "quite forcefully" against a wall and put his hand up her skirt as she opened the door for him to a meeting in her own house just after her husband became an MP; Prescott had not met McDougall before.

He gained a reputation in the British press for confused speech, mangled syntax and poor grammar. The Guardian columnist Simon Hoggart once commented: "Every time Prescott opens his mouth, it's like someone has flipped open his head and stuck in an egg whisk." An oft-quoted but unverified story in Jeremy Paxman's The Political Animal is that, before being accepted as transcribers to the Parliamentary record the Hansard, applicants must listen to one of Prescott's speeches and write down what they think he was trying to say.

The media have attached various sobriquets to John Prescott during his political career. Originally, Prescott's nickname was "Prezza", but as various misfortunes befell Prescott the sobriquets became more colourful, leading to "Two Jags" (Prescott owns one Jaguar, and had the use of another as his official ministerial car). Later versions of this term are "Two Jabs" (following his retaliation against a protester farmer in 2001); and "Two Shacks" (referring to his former country house). The Independent later referred to Prescott as "No Jobs" when he lost his department in a cabinet reshuffle following exposure of his affair, despite keeping the benefits and residences associated with his title, which became a sinecure.

On 8 May 2009, The Daily Telegraph began publishing leaked details of MPs' expenses. The Telegraph reported that Prescott have claimed £312 for fitting mock Tudor beams to his constituency home, and for two new toilet seats in as many years. Prescott responded by saying, "Every expense was within the rules of the House of Commons on claiming expenses at the time".

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