ONE of the most famous double acts in modern politics reunited yesterday over a plate of prawn toast in Hull.
Tony Blair yesterday visited Mr Chu’s China Palace on the banks of the Humber to back his former deputy prime minister’s bid to become the area’s first crime commissioner.
The fake pagoda frontage of Mr Chu’s is a far cry from the upmarket Islington restaurant Granita where Blair famously met Gordon Brown in 1994 to agree a deal to become leader of the Labour Party.
It was also once the scene of an ambush on Mr Blair and the former Hull East MP by a group of pro-hunting protesters, who blockaded their path into Mr Chu’s, prompting the former prime minister to reportedly head to a local fish and chip shop instead.
But there were no such distractions yesterday as the duo waltzed into the restaurant, clearly relishing their latest taste of the campaign trail.
“We should be getting it to play ‘Things Can Only Get Better’,” Lord Prescott joked as he greeted his former party leader by his election battle bus, referring to the soundtrack to their landslide victory in 1997.
Lord Prescott is a long-time patron of Mr Chu’s, putting it in the global spotlight during a state visit to China in 1998 where he declared he preferred its Peking Duck to that served up in his host country.
And yesterday the restaurant’s owners pulled out all the stops for the lunchtime visit, setting up a downstairs office from where the pair could join party activists cold-calling Humberside residents to press them to vote.
“No I’m not taking the Michael,” Blair was forced to tell one disbelieving voter he had telephoned in Hessle, “It really is Tony Blair.”
“Well, you would say that anyway,” came the response.
Later in the main restaurant, flanked by red pillars, paper lanterns and gold dragons crawling up the walls, Mr Blair followed Lord Prescott with a speech to party activists in which he showed he has lost none of his famous charm.
“I have got many happy memories from being in this restaurant,” he grinned to the crowd
“Although a few less outside.
“What we know about John is he is a crime fighter.
“It is in his bones and he gets right to the heart of what crime fighting is about.
“This is someone who understands the area and has represented it for a long time.”
Mr Blair said Lord Prescott was “with him every step of the way” on his famous mantra “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, which he announced in the run-up to the 1997 election.
“Sometimes we would have little debates on policy from time to time between us,” he added.
“But always on law and order we were absolutely solid.
“John will be out there fighting for the people because that is what he is, one of the people.
“I cannot think of a better role for him. He is somebody who I have always had a huge respect for and liking for. Although I’m not sure whether the feeling has always been mutual.
“We did those three terms and did them together. I was proud to work with him and work alongside him.”
Mr Blair also took the opportunity to criticise the coalition Government’s cuts to policing, as well as claiming the £100m cost of next week’s crime commissioner elections could have been put to better use.
Not to be upstaged, Lord Prescott delivered a similarly rousing speech to the restaurant in which he tore into his rival candidates and urged activists to be inspired by President Barack Obama and get out and vote.
The former deputy prime minister said the predicted low-turn out in next week’s election was a serious cause for concern, despite the chief constable of Humberside Police writing in today’s Yorkshire Post that he does not believe it is an issue.
“John was on fantastic form,” Mr Blair told the Yorkshire Post afterwards. He has lost none of the old energy and it brought back a lot of memories for me.
“I had forgotten what his speeches are like. Actually, I think he has got even better over the past few years.”
The Chu family appeared undaunted by the sight of their waiters and waitresses manoeuvring plates of sweet and sour chicken past the throng of Labour Party members and heavy-set men in dark suits with earpieces.
Jimmy Chu, the manager of the restaurant, said it was well used to famous faces, including the Hull City mascot Rory the Tiger.
The question remains as to whether any of the crime commissioner candidates can capture the city’s imagination in anything like the same way.