In January 2005, John Prescott's department issued new guidance encouraging local councils to use make more use of draconian powers under Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act.

Case studies show the Act being used where damage to 'local amenity' has been cited - yet Prescott, in his role as Blair's environmental thug, continues to cause far more damage than any of the hapless building owners targeted by over-zealous petty-minded local officials. This article first appeared in Simon Heffer's column in the Daily Telegraph, 26 November 2005.

Prescott is a harmless buffoon no longer

A wise old Tory told me recently why he thought John Prescott is so difficult. It was, he said, because for the first few years Prezza was in the Commons, back in the 1970s, pin-striped and Bryicreemed Tories opposite would gesture to him to bring them a drink every lime he stood up to speak. Mr Prescott used to be a steward on a cruise ship. One - held to be Capt the Hon Nicholas Soames MP - was later said to have yelled out at a sensitive moment in a Prescott speech: "Mine's a gin and tonic, Giovanni, and would you ask my friend what he's having?"

I must admit that, for a long lime, such stories of playground cruelty made me feel sorry for Mr Prescott. Unlike some of his detractors and, indeed, many of his allies - he had substantial experience of a proper job. Though mocked for his barbarity with the English language - which he handles with all the subtlety of a drug-crazed adolescent with a machine gun - he had tried to improve himself by attending Ruskin College, Oxford. There was much in him to admire, and the penchant for Jags and punching those who abused him was all part of his colourful persona.

However, I am afraid that Mr Prescott has in recent times become one of the rare things on which I have ever changed my mind. What used to be funny about him is now merely doltish. Where he used to engage in acts of policy because of a sincerely held belief that they might well benefit the country, he now pursues politics in a spirit of stupidity and downright spite. And, in short, it is about time we all realised we have had enough.

In nearly nine years as a Cabinet minister, Mr Prescott has hardly racked up an impressive list of achievements. He used to try to run our integrated transport policy, about which the less said the better. Once sent to sort out local government, his successes were such that David Miliband was sent in to do all the serious stuff for him. He spearheaded the Government's entirely bogus scheme to introduce regional assemblies in England. This was rejected despite the only referendum being held in the North-East, the one region where it was thought likely to succeed. Still, all these white elephants kept him notionally busy for a few years, and provided Tony Blair with the excuse he felt he needed to keep this so-called voice of Old Labour in the Cabinet, in a succession of handsomely remunerated jobs.

Now, though, Mr Prescott is turning ugly. He wants to destroy the character of various rural or riverside areas - most of them ones that return Tory MPs - by dumping hundreds of thousands of homes on them. He is happy enough to swamp the floodplains of the Thames estuary to build a whole new city; irrespective of environmental or social consequence. The more scenic and bucolic the canvas for his wrecking, the more he loves it: note the relish with which he promises to devastate the fields and villages in the M11 corridor to build his horrid little houses, and to engage in despoliation such as that deplored in a report this week by the Labour peer Lord Rogers. This is not about preparing for Britain's future: it is about making millions of decent harmless, middle-class Middle Englanders as miserable as possible, and to punish them for not voting Labour.

To be fair to Mr Prescott, he hates the urban environment too. His plans to raze scores of fine Victorian terraces in cities such as Liverpool have quite rightly been greeted with outrage, yet he is aggressively unrepentant about this waste and vandalism. To refuse so adamantly to listen to advice from experts on these matters is not a sign of political will. It is a sign of an almost deranged stupidity. Prezza is carving out quite a legacy: all I hope is that he retires soon, so as to have adequate leisure to contemplate the horror of it.

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