Prescott: ‘Let’s get back to unity’

John Prescott has warned that Labour risks losing the next election if they do not “return to normal business” and stop the infighting over the leadership.

The deputy prime minister reminded MPs who have been demanding that Mr Blair step down or name a departure date, they would get a say in the leadership of the party, which is also decided by constituency parties, trade unions and Labour’s national executive committee.

“If they disagree with the leadership, they are going to have the opportunity to change it, “he told Today.

“A date will come shortly and they can express that view.”

Acknowledging there have “been some strong comments made by members of parliament”, the deputy prime minister said: “I am receiving protests constantly from party members – and so is the party itself – about saying, can we stop all this backbiting?

“And I say, look, let’s get back to the unity of this party, be proud of our record and put it across to the people.”

It was “bitter disputes” within the party that kept Labour out of power for so long, Mr Prescott added, stressing: “That is what will happen to us again if we go along that road.”

Referring to the battles raging within the Labour party, he warned: “I have no doubt about it if we were doing that for a few more weeks – I have no doubt it will affect us.

“We have not got the luxury of…making press comments in the way that’s been last week without the electorate saying… ‘we can’t support this government’.”

He also said he had mediated between the prime minister and the chancellor last week, when Mr Blair was forced to announce he would leave Downing Street within a year following the resignation of eight junior members of the government.

Speaking from a global warming conference in Helsinki, the deputy prime minister refused to discuss comments made by former home secretary Charles Clarke, who last week accused Gordon Brown of being a “control freak” who would be unable to take the pressures of leadership.

The chancellor yesterday hit back over allegations that he had a part in the plot to oust the prime minister, despite his close relationship with Tom Watson, the junior defence minister who quit demanding Mr Blair do the same.

Mr Prescott also refused to discuss how Mr Blair’s departure would affect his role as deputy prime minister, adding that he would discuss the matter with the party’s national executive committee.