The blogosphere is awash with rumours about John Prescott's private life and I do not intend to add to that 'blogswarm' here.
I do believe that the private lives of public figures are of public interest (and I explained why here) but I think there are risks in believing that anything that is "common knowledge" in the Westminster village is legitimate material for a blog. Things that are "common knowledge" amongst MPs and journalists are not always true. On this occasion the "accused" 'Tory blogs' have probably stayed on the right side of the line as John Prescott failed to deny allegations of other affairs when repeatedly pressed by John Humphrys this morning. But next time?
The overriding reason why John Prescott should resign isn't, of course, because of affairs or alleged affairs but because of his abject incompetence and policy failures. It was John Prescott himself, who in the earliest months of 'New Labour government', said that the Dome was its 'first big test of competence’. ‘If we can’t make this work, we’re not much of a Government,’ he continued.
With the considerable help of William Norton I've drawn up a list of some of the ways in which Mr Prescott has proven that Labour really isn't much of a government...
- For nine years he was responsible for local government. The average Band D council tax bill rose from £689 to £1,268 over that period. Last year - in the run-up to the General Election - pensioners were bribed with a £200 council tax rebate but it was scrapped this year with the votes safely gathered in. Prescott's introduction of the Standards Board for England as a means of policing the conduct of councillors has crippled their activities. The Standards Board's code of conduct is ridiculously prescriptive as to what counts as a "vested interest" - preventing a councillor from progressing a case on behalf of residents. Some councils have ground to a halt as politically-motivated complaints (which are expensive to undertake) have been used by councillors against their opponents. Mr Prescott's system of annual Best Value targets for local authorities (not just councils but also, e.g. police authorities and national parks authorities) policed through the Comprehensive Performance Assessment mechanism by the Audit Commission is expensive, over-centralised and often pointless. It effectively nationalises all local councils and is undemocratic.
- Enthusiasm for postal voting has been another Prescott preoccupation but has been consistently dogged by fraud worries. After fraud was discovered by a Labour councillor in Birmingham during 2004's European elections the Election Commissioner, Richard Mawrey QC, famously said that what he had uncovered "would disgrace a banana republic". He attacked the Government for displaying "a state not simply of complacency but of denial". He continued: "The fact is that there are no systems to deal realistically with fraud and there never have been. Until there are, fraud will continue unabated".
- The Deputy PM once promised an integrated transport policy and to reduce the importance of the car. In June 1997 he said "I will have failed if in five years time there are not fewer journeys made by car". "It is a tall order, but I urge you to hold me to it," he said. He failed. Car journeys have increased 9% since June 1997 with the CBI putting the cost of congestion at £20bn per year. Over the same time period rail punctuality has deteriorated.
- Prescott broke the law on the conduct of ministers of the crown during referendums (PPERA section 125) in November 2004 by releasing news of a change in government transport policy during the 'purdah period'. See here for William Norton's detailed account of this.
- His redesignation of domestic gardens as brownfield sites for planning purposes permits developers to go "garden grabbing" with an increase in the housing density and massive environmental damage to certain communities. Tory MP Greg Clark has launched a campaign against this phenomenon.
- His plans to impose new housing targets on the south east of England are undemocratic and threatens to overload existing infrastructure and despoil the green environment. At the same time he plans to demolish 400,000 homes in the north of England.
- When he ran the bloated Dept for the Environment, Transport & the Regions he created the Strategic Rail Authority as a super-quango to regulate the railways and the railway regulators. This was such an unworkable system that Alistair Darling as Transport Secretary had to scrap it in 2004 - after it had wasted a vast amount of public money.
- He has overseen a massive explosion in the regional quango state: regional observatories; regional public health observatories; regional cultural consortia; regional transport boards; regional assemblies; regional housing boards; regional fire authorities. These produce a bureaucratic nightmare such that each part of England is now required to compile and follow central guidance over: a regional economic strategy; a regional framework for employment & skills action; a regional rural action plan; a regional tourism strategy; a regional biodiversity stragety; a regional image strategy; a regional cultural strategy; a regional sports strategy; a regional health improvement strategy; a regional energy strategy; a regional housing statement; a regional waste strategy; a regional transport strategy; regional planning guidance and a regional single programming document.
- The only time that Prescott's regionalisation plans have ever been put to the test was the North East Referendum, when the proposal for an elected regional assembly was rejected by 78% to 22%. This result indicates that there is no public support for regionalisation but it has had no impact whatsover on his drive to regionalise institutions and authorities under undemocratic quangos.
- The Conservative Party has documented the enormous costs of John Prescott's regional government. For example: even though a new system of London government has been introduced Bernard Jenkin revealed that the size of Whitehall's Office for London - the central arm of Whitehall has grown by 70%.