Prezza: My Story: Pulling No Punches by John Prescott

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Prezza: My Story: Pulling No Punches by John Prescott

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A light-weight autobiography concentrating on the man rather than the times or the politics makes for an easy but unchallenging read. Cautiously recommended if you're happy to read what amounts to a celebrity memoir from a politician.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Headline Review
ISBN: 978-0755317752

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Published in paperback as Docks to Downing Street: My Story

John Prescott polarises opinion. It seems that people either love or loathe him and I've yet to meet anyone who isn't at least aware of him. Coming from relatively humble beginnings he rose to be the UK's longest-serving Deputy Prime Minister by the time he resigned in June 2007. He's been just about as close to the top of British politics as it's possible to get and his autobiography was expected to be revealing and possibly even tell us where some of the bodies are buried. So, how did it measure up?

If you're looking for political insight along the lines of Tony Benn or Denis Healey – to keep to the left side of the political fence – then this is not the book for you. It's essentially light-weight and unchallenging. On the other hand, if you're nervous that you're going to be faced with a book of Prescott's mangled syntax and abuse of the English language you'll be relieved to know that it was ghost-written by Hunter Davies. Unfortunately, this will give you another clue. Davies has performed the same service for Paul Gascoigne – Gazza – and you'll realise that Prezza – My Story: Pulling No Punches is celebrity memoir rather than a serious political work.

Events are told in broadly chronological order from 1938 through to 2001 when the telling becomes thematic. Some two thirds of the book relate to the time before Labour came to power in 1997 with the first third being devoted to the period before Prescott entered Parliament. It's a book about the man rather than the politics or the times and it reveals quite a lot about Prescott, perhaps more than he intended.

I didn't expect a man who had been Deputy Prime Minister to be such a mass of insecurities, conscious of slights and exclusions. Not getting the bike he'd been promised if he passed the Eleven-Plus still rankles almost sixty years later – but then he did fail the exam. The closer he is to power, the greater the stress, the more paranoid he becomes – he and Pauline have had but one invite to Chequers, which rankles all the more when he sees the list of people who have been invited. There's perhaps some justification for his feeling that he was used by Blair – he was there to keep 'Old Labour' on side, but then I would have thought that that should have been obvious back in 1997 – and that he might have made better use of the fact.

There are some surprises in the book. The bulimia had the feel to me of a 'unique selling point' to promote the book in a season when book shops are over-stocked with light-weight political memoirs. Frankly I could have done without the detail. There were things that I did want to know before I read the book. I wanted to understand more about the relationship between Blair and Brown – and I wanted to know just how we ended up in Iraq.

On Iraq there was little that was new – or at least not suspected. Prescott still believes that what happened was right, but it didn't seem to be a subject that particularly engaged him. He is more revealing about the relationship between Blair and Brown. I was most surprised by the fact that he always thought of Brown as the senior in the partnership, from the time they both entered Parliament. On this subject he is genuinely interesting if so even-handed that I suspected his wife of hoping to see him wearing ermine.

Apart from the bulimia there were things that I didn't want to know about. His affair with Tracey Temple was tawdry, but to Prescott's credit he offers no self-justification, only a statement that he was wrong. I was less impressed by his treatment of that punch. If I had hit someone, even after they had hit me, I would be mortified. Violence is the answer to nothing – from the personal to the international - but you could be forgiven for believing that this was the height of Prescott's political career:

Today it's probably the single incident most people associate with me – in all my ten years as deputy prime minister. Perhaps it might have helped us, in a small way, to win that 2001 election so decisively…

There's nothing profound in the book, but if you're looking for a light and engaging read then you might find it enjoyable. I read it in one sitting and didn't feel that I'd wasted my time even though I read little that was new. If you do want a more in depth look at recent history then we can recommend A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr or for a look at a similar period in time from the other side of the political fence have a look at The Remarkable Lives of Bill Deedes by Stephen Robinson.

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