Tories in squatter jibe as Prescott takes reins
JOHN Prescott's first day standing in for the Prime Minister has been overshadowed by accusations that he is "squatting" in plush government offices at taxpayers' expense.
As Tony Blair handed over the reins of power to Mr Prescott yesterday, the Conservatives unleashed a fresh attack on the embattled Deputy Prime Minister.
Although he has been sidelined on the Middle East talks by Mr Blair, stripped of most of his departmental duties and had his nine civil servants shifted to a new department, Mr Prescott is keeping his offices in London.
Oliver Heald, the shadow constitutional affairs secretary, described the situation as a "Whitehall coup" and questioned why the state should pay 40,000 to relocate civil servants to a new department headed by Ruth Kelly while Mr Prescott held on to his "empire".
Mr Heald said: "In the real world, when you receive your P45, you pack your bags and leave. John Prescott has become a squatter in the heart of Whitehall, at the hard-pressed taxpayers' expense.
Mr Prescott spent his first day in charge talking to Met Office officials and health experts on how to deal with the next heatwave. A spokeswoman said he would work out of his Whitehall office and it was "business as usual". Mr Prescott has stood in for the Prime Minister over the past nine summers.
Meanwhile, a further blow was dealt to Mr Prescott's authority as it emerged that Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary, was wooing four of the five big unions to back him as the next deputy leader.
Sources close to Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary and Mr Prescott's closest rival for the job, said there would be a "Celtic problem" if Scot Gordon Brown was leader and his deputy was Welsh.
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