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     Prescott under fire for Anschutz gifts  <<back  next>>

Pressure continues to mount on the deputy prime minister as he fights to save his political career amid a continuing media storm.

John Prescott's involvement with American tycoon Philip Anschutz - who owns a stake in the millennium dome - is highlighted in the Mail on Sunday, which reports that he was given a hand-crafted 'Wild West' outfit by the businessman.

The paper quoted "an informed source" as saying that the present included a pair of leather boots, a Stetson hat and a belt, which could cost anything up to 20,000.

It was apparently gifted to Prescott during a two-night stay at Anschutz's Colorado ranch last year.

The news comes after a week of criticism aimed at the deputy prime minister for accepting hospitality from the businessman, who is now bidding to open a 'supercasino' at the millennium dome.

And for the first time the Sunday papers contained detailed reports on who is being lined up to replace Prescott if he is forced to step down.

David Miliband is described as a strong contender to fill the role on an interim basis after he told the Sunday Telegraph he was not interested in standing for election as deputy party leader.

The environment secretary would be seen as a 'Blairite' replacement for Prescott.

Jack Straw is also being tipped as a possible contender - and a more consensual choice - along with Harriet Harman and Alan Johnson.

But with each of those, along with Peter Hain, likely to run for the deputy leadership then opting for any of them could be seen as interference by Number 10 in Labour Party affairs.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police has been asked to investigate whether Prescott broke anti-corruption laws when he accepted the invitation to stay at Anschutz's ranch.

Liberal Democrat Norman Baker has written to deputy assistant commissioner John Yates asking him to launch an inquiry under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Baker told the Independent on Sunday: "There is a prima facie case that needs to be investigated. I have asked the Met to investigate Mr Prescott and his acceptance of Mr Anschutz's hospitality under anti-corruption laws."

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt defended Prescott after the latest media reports.

"I think we are just seeing the press in one of their perennial lathers,'' she told BBC1's Sunday AM.

And she dismissed reports that Miliband was being lined up to replace him as "speculation and froth".

"There is no vacancy at the moment for deputy leader or deputy prime minister and John Prescott, like all the rest of us in government, is just getting on with what we were elected to do," she said.

Shadow trade and industry secretary Alan Duncan said Prescott's credibility was "absolutely shot".

He told Sky News's Sunday Live: "I'm afraid it does illustrate a wider decay of authority and purpose in this government."

And Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell predicted that Prescott may step down as deputy prime minister because of the "drip, drip, drip" of information against him.

"I think the difficulty for Mr Prescott is that, although there's no killer fact, these issues simply won't go away and they must get in the way of him fulfilling such responsibilities as he has in the government," he told Sky News.

10 July 2006

 Last updated: 10/07/2006 09:46:00



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