“Whenever I go to Mr Chu’s in Hull, my favourite Chinese restaurant in the whole world . . . I could eat my way through the entire menu”, “I could sup a whole tin of Carnation condensed milk, just for the taste”.
Yes, we all had a bit of a laugh at the quotes filling the Sunday pages when John Prescott went public with his long-running fight with, amongst other things, bulimia. Throughout his 40-year career in politics he has been the butt of jokes about his weight and aggressive political style, providing an endless stream of material for satirical programmes I Got News For You? and Bremner, Bird and Fortune.
He’s been pilloried in the press for the scuffle with a protester during the 2001 election, an affair with his secretary, the infamous croquet match and his long residence (at the taxpayer’s expense) at the opulent Dorneywood estate. And who could forget his shaky command of the English language, which gave us such gems as “The green belt is a Labour achievement, and we mean to build on it,” and “It’s great to be back on terra cotta”?
Admittedly, not exactly a blemish free political career, but in more ways than you think, he has contributed a great deal to the country in his time in office.
The decision to reveal his bulimia should be applauded. Its obviously something he has struggled with for many years, and it must have taken some guts (pun not intended), even for the usually forthright former Deputy PM to tell the world about it. Most people consider it to be a problem which afflicts only young women, and his decision will encourage other men who would otherwise have been too embarrassed to talk about it to seek help.
His willingness to venture onto ground other politicians would never dare to tread, admitting to having a problem like bulimia and hitting back when he was attacked, helped show us that politicians are real people, and, as the Tories’ Iain Dale has said, helped dispel the notion that politicians are “supremely confident and outgoing people who wouldn’t recognise shyness and self doubt if they hit them in the face”. In being flawed, and admitting it, he provides a human, if ever so slightly alarming, face for British politics.
And at least John Prescott is interesting. In a political world filled with personality-less Ed Millibands and Jacqui Smiths, he is refreshingly off-message and uncompromising. An ardent trade unionist, he’s a relic from a prior political age, when politics was an exciting battle of opposing ideas.
The sad death of backbench battleaxe Gwyneth Dunwoody, and the imminent retirement of Anne Widdecombe and the ‘Beast of Bolsover’ Dennis Skinner signals the death of that kind of politics. He was more competent in government than his critics make out: In his early appointment in charge of transport, he concluded some difficult and complicated negotiations over the railways and the Channel Tunnel, for example.
During his ten years as number two to Tony Blair, he helped mediate the long-running dispute between the former and current Prime Ministers, and acted as a bridge between the socialist grassroots of the party and its New Labour leadership.
He was chosen as Deputy PM for a reason; to bridge the two parts of the party and to give the government a common touch. He’s done all that, and given us a few laughs along the way. What else could we have asked for?