Writers can be forgiven the occasional cliché when the situation they are trying to describe is an extreme one of its kind. So just as last Saturday Wayne Rooney was as sick as a parrot and Owen Hargreaves covered every blade of grass on the pitch, John Prescott is beleaguered.
Having already got himself into a hole where Tony Blair seems to just about accept that his position within the Labour party entitles him to the pay and perks of the Deputy Prime Ministership, only without any ministerial duties, Prescott has been hit by further bad press this week. He has been forced to declare the hospitality he received from Philip Anschutz, an American billionaire who took the Millennium Dome off the government’s hands and is bidding for the licence to run Britain’s first “super-casino”. All the signs are there of the mounting and ultimately irresistible pressure that builds up to push out “beleaguered” ministers.
As Nick Assinder of the BBC points out, if Blair leaves for his summer holidays without sacking Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister will be running routine government business while his boss is away. This is surely unthinkable.
Unfortunately there seems to be no way of betting directly on a quick departure for Prescott. But Paddy Power is offering a market on his successor as deputy Labour leader, and there ought to be some correlation between this and when Prescott goes. The closer he is to the exit, the more the deputy leadership is likely to go to someone whose political stock is already high. This suits the 13/8 favourite Alan Johnson, who has been the big growth stock of the last year in the Labour party, and has the strong union links needed to win an election in Labour’s electoral college.
Johnson seems a deserved favourite, but the question is whether the price is attractive enough. The question mark over him must be whether his rise in profile is media-driven beyond the extent to which it actually wins him votes in internal Labour elections. This is the sort of thing you never know until the election happens, but my hunch is that at 13/8, a bet on Johnson doesn’t reflect outstanding value. Hilary Benn, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have the chance that Johnson has – but odds of 7/1 could more than outweigh that as a long-shot bet.
Mike Smithson returns on 10th July.