UK Politics

John Prescott tells Tony Blair to 'calm down'

John Prescott (l) and Tony Blair (r)
Image caption John Prescott was Tony Blair's deputy during the New Labour years

Lord Prescott has criticised Tony Blair's intervention in the Labour leadership contest, telling the former prime minister to "calm down".

Mr Blair urged against a lurch to the left and said people who said their heart was with Jeremy Corbyn should "get a transplant".

Ex-Deputy PM Lord Prescott said his comments were "unacceptable", saying Labour was all about heart and head.

He urged the party to "stop the abuse" and "get back to policy".

Four candidates are in the running to become Ed Miliband's successor as Labour leader: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Mr Corbyn, with the winner announced in September.

'Totally unacceptable'

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Lord Prescott - who is supporting Mr Burnham - criticised the conduct of the contest, saying it had been about "abuse and personality" rather than policy.

The former cabinet minister claimed advisers had been causing trouble and should "get out of the way".

And he was highly critical of Mr Blair over his comments on Wednesday warning that Labour would not win again if it shifted its policies leftwards.

Mr Blair said the "debilitating feature" of the contest was that it was being presented as a choice "between heart and head", adding that people who say their heart is with Mr Corbyn should "get a transplant".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Corbyn is on course to win the contest, according to a poll

Lord Prescott said: "I found that absolutely staggering. I have a lot of respect for Tony Blair, I worked with him for a lot of years, but to use that kind of language is just abuse.

"The Labour Party is about the heart as well as the head and to suggest somebody should have a transplant if they are making decisions by the heart is totally unacceptable."

He said Labour had lost a lot of support because of the 2003 Iraq War and said the former prime minister should reflect on that.

'Not a moron'

The leadership race has been the subject of widespread debate after a poll this week suggested that in the final round of voting Mr Corbyn could finish six points ahead of bookmakers' favourite Mr Burnham.

Standing by his decision to help the left-winger to get on the final ballot by encouraging MPs to "lend" him their nomination, Lord Prescott said the party needed as wide a debate as possible.

Labour leadership contest: at-a-glance

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption One of these four candidates will succeed Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour party
  • Who are the candidates? Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn, Liz Kendall
  • Dates: Ballot papers will be sent out on 14 August; voting can take place by post or online. They must be returned by 10 September. The result is on 12 September.
  • Who can vote? All party members, registered supporters and affiliated supporters - including those joining via a union - get a vote
  • What is the voting system? The Alternative Vote system is being used so voters are asked to rank candidates in order of preference
  • How does it work? If no candidate gets 50% of all votes cast, the candidate in fourth place is eliminated. Their second preference votes are then redistributed among the remaining three. If no-one now has more than 50%, the third place candidate is eliminated with their second preferences (or third in the case of votes transferred from the fourth place candidates) redistributed. It is then a straight head-to-head between the last two candidates with the one having the most votes winning.

It comes after ex-adviser to Mr Blair, John McTernan, said MPs who "lent" their nominations to Mr Corbyn to "broaden the debate" were "morons" - with ex-Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett saying she was one of them.

"Margaret is not a moron," Lord Prescott told Today. "I'm surprised that she should back down having supported Jeremy."

He said Mr Corbyn was doing well because people knew where he stood.

He rejected the idea it would be a disaster if the Islington North MP won - and accused the media and the pollsters of fuelling "a panic" about Mr Corbyn.

The former deputy PM also said he supported Ms Kendall remaining in the race - after calls for her to stand down to prevent a Mr Corbyn win - saying he wanted her arguments to be heard.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ms Kendall has been urged to back Mr Burnham or Ms Cooper to defeat Jeremy Corbyn

He said the Leicester West MP had made clear where she stood on key issues although "I don't think the party like the message".

Ms Kendall, who polls suggest is currently in fourth place, has dismissed calls for her to withdraw from the race and support Mr Burnham or Ms Cooper.

Her aides said it was "not going to happen", and accused the rival camps of "fuelling" the idea.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Frank Field, one of Mr Corbyn's nominees, told BBC Radio 4's World at One the debate "hasn't been widened" by his candidacy, and the other candidates needed to up their game to defeat him.

Ms Cooper told Today Ms Kendall should "certainly not" pull out of the contest and "leave it to the boys, just because of one poll".

Lord Prescott also criticised Harriet Harman during the interview on Thursday morning, saying she had "no authority" to change the party's stance on the government's welfare cuts.

He said Ms Harman, who is currently the acting leader of the party while the contest takes place, had adopted "the Tory position", adding that she "got it wrong".

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