Tom Richmond: Prescott's hypocrisy as he lords it over the country

HAVING betrayed his working class roots, and decided to accept a peerage in order to placate his long-suffering wife, John Prescott will have no shortage of new titles to choose from.

There's Lord Prescott of Rhyl – in honour of the protester who he famously punched during the 2001 election campaign.

Or Lord Prescott of Trouserdown – a reference to his extra-marital affair with his diary secretary, Tracey Temple, that nearly cost him his marriage and his career.

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Or Lord Prescott of Dorneywood – in acknowledgment of his croquet-playing exploits at his grace and favour home shortly after his infidelity was exposed.

The list is endless. There's the former Deputy Prime Minister's penchant for Jaguars. The short car journey that he made to Labour's conference to protect his wife Pauline's hair from the elements; Bournemouth could be commemorated. His time at sea working for Cunard. Or Mr Chu's, the Chinese restaurant that has so benefited from Prescott's custom over the years.

And that's before this class "snob" chooses between Prestatyn, his place of birth, or his adopted city of Hull, which he represented in the House of Commons for 40 years.

When he was running the country in 2003, he actually telephoned me – after reports that he could be elevated to the Lords – to say (between expletives): "I shall never wear the ermine." More recently, his line has been: "I'm against all

this flunkery."

In many respects, it's not the 71-year-old political bruiser's fault that he, once again, finds himself the subject of such ridicule – everyone knows that he has accepted the peerage so his delightfully charming wife Pauline, who has put up with so much over the years, can become Lady P and that this was one argument that Prescott was never going to win.

It's the other political failures from the New Labour years who now find themselves being elevated to the House of Lords – alongside a host of "working peers" nominated by the Tories and Liberal Democrats.

However, despite these appointments, Labour continues to have 20 per cent more peers than the Tories, the main party of government, so David Cameron is probably going to have to announce another list of peers so his legislation has a fair chance of being passed. This is how absurd the Lords has become.

Yet one of Tony Blair's more responsible decisions, when he resigned in 2007, was not to publish a dissolution honours list – the prerogative of all outgoing Prime Ministers.

He was right to do so – especially as Labour was, at the time, being overwhelmed by the "cash for honours" scandal that did so much to undermine the credibility of the political establishment before the MPs' expenses crisis came to light.

Blair was also aware that New Labour came to power in 1997 with a commitment to abolish the House of Lords and introduce a fully-elected second chamber, with peers accountable to the people.

Yet this did not stop his dismal successor Gordon Brown rewarding a series of former Cabinet ministers – Prescott included – who had all, as "Commoners", previously backed Labour's supposed commitment to Lords reform.

It was perfectly within their rights, if they did not want to be accused of hypocrisy, to have turned down their peerage; indeed, Brown recently made clear that he would not consider taking a seat in the Lords until it had been reformed.

It remains to be seen whether this would involve Labour's outgoing leader standing for election – or whether special exemptions would be made for former Prime Ministers and those close colleagues who have held one of the Great Offices of State.

Though this could undermine the democratic legitimacy of the new Chamber, it could – just – be argued that such individuals have earned the right to a seat in the Lords, provided that they are committed to being active participants in the debates rather than passive observers.

They would certainly have a greater right than, for example, Sue Nye – Gordon Brown's personal assistant who was blamed by the PM for his embarrassing confrontation with Gillian Duffy during the election that precipitated the "bigotgate" episode.

Apart from being married to Gavyn Davies, who went on to become a Goldman Sachs partner and chairman of the BBC, this Labour loyalist's only other claim to fame was allowing Peter Mandelson, another discredited politician to be found in the Lords, to be a lodger at the start of his career.

There's also Sir Ian Blair, whose tenureship of the Metropolitan Police coincided with his officers shooting dead the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes after the July 7 suicide bombings in 2005.

But, frankly, the most contemptible appointments were the peerages awarded to former Defence secretaries John Reid, Des Browne and John Hutton.

For the record, this is the same John Reid who famously assured the British public that he hoped there would not be a shot fired in anger when he increased Britain's troop deployment to Afghanistan.

This is the same Des Browne whose tenureship of the Ministry of Defence was overshadowed by countless reports about how troops had been sent into battle with inadequate equipment.

And this is the same John Hutton whose only contribution, during his nine-month tenureship of the MoD, was to say – accurately – that Brown's premiership would be "a disaster".

Now this trio, and others, will be able to lord it over the nation while brave young men and women continue to pay the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan because of their abiding failure to stand up for the needs of the Armed Forces when they held high office

So, too, will other political losers – like Quentin Davies, the Tory deserter who became a Labour Defence minister and was unable to find a seat to contest at the election. Or Jim Knight, the Education minister voted out of office by his own constituents.

All these appointments have done is to make a mockery of promises to clean up politics. They are rewards for cronyism rather than their public service.

The sooner this Government introduces direct elections to the House of Lords – as Labour promised 13 years ago – the better. Even John – sorry, Lord Prescott – would agree with this, wouldn't he?