- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Bedroom scandals in Old Blighty are better than ours. Understatement is the gift of our British cousins, and reading the juicy newspaper accounts is half the fun.

Consider the saga of John Prescott, the deputy prime minister and heretofore Prime Minister Tony Blair’s point man for railing at Tory “sleaze.” The PM told him yesterday not to resign even in the wake of steamy weekend disclosures that once upon a time would have sunk one of Her Majesty’s dreadnaughts.

Mr. Prescott was “caught out,” as the Brits put it, a fortnight ago having an affair with a woman naturally described as “an attractive blonde divorcee.” At 67, the deputy PM gives inspiration to a lot of geezers. His inamorata, the Civil Service keeper of his official diary, is only 43.

There are the inevitable comparisons to a certain ex-president of recent memory, but Mr. Prescott has not yet been accused of rape, mayhem or flirting with statutory limits of the law protecting the young from aging lechers. He has assured Mr. Blair that he can weather the crisis. His colleagues in Mr. Blair’s Cabinet, however, are concerned about the nationwide local elections coming up Thursday.

“In politics,” says the aptly named Alistair Darling, the transportation secretary, “you have to be able to maintain sufficient authority. You have to be able for people to look at you on the television set and say, ‘That guy speaks for me; he’s got my support.’ ”

Mr. Prescott is in what the London papers call “seclusion” with his wife, once called “Elizabeth Taylor II” for her resemblance to the celebrated film beauty often regarded as the most beautiful woman of her generation. “Seclusion” probably does not do justice to Mr. Prescott’s situation. He is thought to be assisting the missus in evaluating his prospects in the way that British criminal suspects are usually said to be “assisting police in their investigation.”

The attractive blonde divorcee’s story, for which the London Daily Mail is reported to have paid $475,000, is lurid enough in the telling, even more salacious in the understated retelling in the London Daily Telegraph: The affair “was consummated on several occasions [in the deputy prime minister’s office], warts and all, beneath [Oliver] Cromwell’s unforgiving gaze. For a man who barely approved of sex within marriage, the spectacle must have been eye-opening.”

Mr. Prescott’s emphatic assertion that “much” of the recollection in Mrs. Tracey Temple’s account was “simply untrue and clearly motivated by a desire to maximize financial gain” is clearly noted, and then it’s on to the juicy bits. “Her portrayal of Mr. Prescott does not mark the 67-year-old former merchant seaman as a romantic … Her visits to his taxpayer-funded flat in Admiralty House were, so to speak, functional.” Though the deputy prime minister is alleged to have “a pragmatic attitude toward the act of love,” Mrs. Temple said generously: “One thing I was pleased about was that he did kiss me.”

Mr. Prescott, a bluff and hearty man with a linebacker’s build and a defensive tackle’s bull neck, comes from a rowdy Welsh working-class background. He would have been right at home in Hot Springs. He was trained as a chef and worked as a Merchant Marine steward before going on to (John Ruskin) university at, but not in, Oxford. Romantic or not, he is clearly a man of passion, having once decked a heckler at a campaign rally. A Tory ambassador recalled that he once arrived at the British Embassy in Washington “like a mastiff with his hackles up,” mangling syntax and speaking of wars in “the Balklands” and “Kovosa.” He scoffed at the ambassador’s characterization as the “tittle-tattle of a red-socked fop.”

Mr. Prescott’s troubles began when someone leaked to the newspapers a photograph taken at a Christmas party with Mrs. Temple’s legs around his neck. Now additional ladies are coming out of the shadows with tales from the long ago. One of them, describing sexual harassment with the graceful manners we traditionally associate with the by-gone England of Mrs. Miniver, says Mr. Prescott showed up at her house one midnight, hungry and looking for love. “He just turned up on the doorstep at about midnight. I cooked him dinner and sat there and chatted. He was looking for sexual favors, but what are you going to do?” Mr. Prescott, like any randy pol, no doubt had an answer.

Pruden on Politics runs on Tuesday and Friday.

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