John Prescott, the man who deserves some sort of award as Labour's best supporting actor for these past 13 years, bowed out yesterday in characteristic style. He bashed the Tories, he bashed the press, he said how proud he was to have served in this Labour government, and he invented an ancient Greek named Dame Osthenes.
The leading man, Tony Blair, still has one more appearance to make on the Commons stage, at next week's Prime Minister's Questions. John Prescott, 69, in his first public outing after recovering from pneumonia, has now taken questions from MPs for the last time as Deputy Prime Minister. His 13 years as Labour's deputy leader are up on Sunday, and he will resign from the Government at the same time as the Prime Minister, three days later. He will resign as MP at the next general election.
Six candidates are competing for his job, but their performances made such a poor impression on the Conservative leader, David Cameron, that a few days ago he suggested they made Mr Prescott look like "a cross between Ernie Bevin and Demosthenes".
Yesterday the shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, suggested Mr Prescott's true role was as a "marriage guidance counsellor", a back-handed tribute to the many times the Deputy Prime Minister has resealed the relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Mr Prescott cheerfully replied: "My experience is there has always been good agreement between my two colleagues and I'm sure that will continue. It seems that while I was away, the Leader of the Opposition had something to say about me too. He described me as a cross between Ernie Bevin and Dame Osthenes."
He added: "When I read classics and Greek mythology at the Ellesmere Port Secondary Modern School, we learnt about Narcissus. He died because he could only love his own image. He was all image and no substance." Mr Hague replied: "I'm sure 'Dame Osthenes' will be very flattered that you have singled her out for praise today. It only goes to show that for all the harsh words we have exchanged over the years, politics without him is going to be dramatically less entertaining.
"Not only do we not know how the Labour Party are going to manage without him we don't know how the Conservative Party is going to manage without him. May we wish him a thumping good retirement and in many years of good humour and good health."
Mr Prescott also directed good-humoured insults at journalists in the gallery, delighting Labour MPs.
The orator Demosthenes
Demosthenes was a great orator of ancient Greece, who overcame a speech impediment by practising with a mouthful of pebbles. His 'phillipics' warned Athenians against the rise of Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. Defeated, he poisoned himself.