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OPINION - DAVID CURRY

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Laugh? I laughed so much I could have cried. What a coupling! What a sense of humour! Dear old John Prescott, the ...
Laugh? I laughed so much I could have cried. What a coupling! What a sense of humour! Dear old John Prescott, the incredible hulk of the Labour government, has just fought off David Blunkett's attempts to take over his department - together with a chunk of the Home Office for 'afters'.

The next thing we know is that he is saddled with the nearly-40 son of a Marxist intellectual with a first from Oxford, a Kennedy Scholarship, a growing band of hagiographers who think he is a future prime minister and

a place in the Cabinet.

If ever two people occupied different spaces in the Labour Party it must be John Prescott and David Miliband, the new minister for communities (groan, groan - New Labour newspeak. Wait for the endless repetition of the mantra of 'sustainability') and local government.

Not that there's anything wrong with Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Your humble columnist (class two honours) went there and was one of the first batch of Kennedy Scholars to be despatched to Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Two people made a deep impression upon me Stateside: one was Henry Kissinger who taught me international politics; the other a young lady from the aptly named Fall River, Massachusetts - about whom it is prudent not to enter into detail.

You will also have noticed, gentle reader, that Corpus Christi College has just won this season's University Challenge, demolishing in the process Balliol College, the university's self-proclaimed home of intellectual superiority.

So how will they work together? Will they work together? Only one other department has two Cabinet ministers, and that is the Treasury. But at the Treasury the chief secretary is very much the subordinate. The Treasury is also a highly integrated department and it would be difficult even without the all-seeing, all-controlling presence of Gordon Brown to carve out a separate empire.

The same is not true at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: it is one of those sprawling entities with bits always ripe for annexation by an ambitious princeling - especially one egged on by No 10.

Mr Miliband has certainly established himself in lonely splendour in Eland House, the glass-fronted emporium close to Victoria Station which houses the bulk of the department's officials. Every other minister, so I am told, has set up shop at 26 Whitehall, along with Mr Prescott.

If Mr Miliband reports to Mr Prescott, he has a grander title than Nick Raynsford but no greater autonomy in practice. Or will he have a private line to the prime minister? After all, his entire political career has been spent working for Tony Blair both before and after the 1997 election victory. If ever there was a Blairite creature, Miliband is it.

Mr Prescott may enjoy his reputation as a call-a-spade-a-bloody-shovel bruiser but he is a wily political in-fighter with an important role as conciliator between Mr Blair and Mr Brown. He has also developed a style of self-denigration, which has turned him into a formidable parliamentary performer.

He is capable of running rings round Mr Miliband: young David's sensible course is to make that unnecessary by deliberately becoming Mr Prescott's loyal and articulate lieutenant. With the post-Blair era looming this would be elementary self-preservation (though his brother Ed, newly elected, ranks as a Brownite - you can tell the family was brought up on dialectics.)

Nick Raynsford, meanwhile, has every right to feel brassed off. He has had to sort out enough of the Labour government's messes to feel he was due a Cabinet post. In the final days of the old Parliament he was ordered off a train to defend the government's position on postal votes in the Commons because the Department for Constitutional Affairs flunked it. If he decided at that moment that it was the Cabinet or the back-benches no one could blame him.

He has been an outstandingly competent and sympathetic local government minister just as he was an outstandingly competent housing minister (I suspect his first love) before that. I shall miss his beaming features and transparently contrived attempts to spit venom at the opposition from the despatch box. He was never a convincing Hemingway but made a brilliant Richelieu.

I suspect we might find work to do together - the Curry/Raynsford axis. How about that for the New Politics?

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