HE was the steel to Tony Blair's silk - the hard-hitting former shop steward who linked New Labour's metropolitan modernisers to the party's working class roots. 

John Prescott, who has suffered a stroke, was one of the most recognisable politicians following labour's landslide election win in 1997, serving as deputy Prime Minister until 2007.

A formidable, if occasionally gaffe-prone, presence at the top of the party, Prescott was also seen as a buffer between the camps of Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown who was able to ensure any infighting was kept to a minimum. 

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His gruff, northern delivery was also a gift to satirists who mocked his occasionally mangled syntax and poor grammar. 


Prescott in 2010

Born in Prestatyn, Wales 1n 1938, he was the MP for Hull East for 40 years from 1970 to 2010, and was forever associated with the north of England town.

Starting out in in the Merchant navy as a waiter and steward on a Cunard liner, he was introduced to left-wing politics and trade union activism and left to pursue further education at Ruskin College and later the University of Hull.

During his time in government he was for four years Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions - a massive portfolio which saw him butting heads with rail franchise owners due to his longstanding opposition to privatisation, although it was not reversed.

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He was also instrumental in the UK's part in the drawing up of the Kyoto protocols to cut greenhouse gases, although his stated attempts to cut car use in favour of public transport failed. 

Prescott's time as environment secretary also saw one of the biggest faux pas, when he and wife Pauline were caught out by the newspapers being driven 250 yards from their hotel to the venue of the Labour Party Conference.

His reply to questions on the subject - that his wife didn't like to get her hair blown about by the wind - led to widespread mockery and earned the MP the nickname "Two Jags" (a reference to the fact he owned one Jaguar car and was given another, chauffeur-driven one as a Minister).


On the campaign trail with wife Pauline (left).

Attempts to reform local government in England also floundered when he tried to bring in Regional Assemblies for the North. The move was panned by critics and a referendum on the first assembly, in the North East, saw the idea opposed by 78 per cent of voters. 

"Two Jags" would later become "Two Jabs" when, in his most widely-remembered moment in the media spotlight, Prescott punched a protestor while on the campaign trail during the 2001 General Election.

A former amateur boxer, he lashed out with a left hook when farmer Craig Evans threw an egg at him from a short distance.


Prescott scuffles with Craig Evans 

Prescott later said: "Well, let me say you when I walked past this guy, and he hit me with the egg, right, I don't know it was an egg, I just feel this very warm thing running down my neck and I think, well I just think somebody's perhaps knifed me or assaulted me, you know, that all happens in a split second, and I see this fellow built like a bloody barn door, and I turned, and I reacted, and when Tony [Blair] asked me, er, what happened I said I was carrying out his orders; he told us to connect with the electorate, so I did."

On hearing of the incident, Tony Blair simply remarked that "John is John".  

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Prescott stood down as Deputy Prime Minister when Blair left office in 2007, and quit as an MP in 2010 to join the house of Lords. 

Despite admitting to an affair with his secretary during his time in office, he and wife Pauline remain married. They have two sons.