john prescott 88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Labor Party MP who caused controversy by publicizing comments made by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at a private meeting of Labor lawmakers last week has said he has "no regrets" about disclosing Prescott's private thoughts about the Bush administration.
The MP, Harry Cohen, said that during the meeting, Prescott said that US President George W. Bush had been "crap" on Middle East policy. Prescott also called Bush "a cowboy in a Stetson who's just not doing the job." The Labor MP told the BBC he did not think the comments were a "gaffe" and that Prescott should not be embarrassed.
Cohen said also that he believed the deputy prime minister's comment had been "an honest and good point, well made."
He said: "Prescott said Bush had been crap on the Middle East road map and he was right to say so. I think it would be very helpful if he would say this publicly now, because it is time these issues were aired."
Interpreting Prescott's comments in a column in Friday's The Independent, Cohen said: "In doing so, he was speaking for the British people, who are appalled at the spectacle of Blair supporting Bush on the Middle East."
"I believe it is time we had honest debate about Britain's role in the world and the disastrous Middle East policy that Blair and Bush are following," he added.
The deputy prime minister, who is currently in charge of the government while Tony Blair is on holiday, issued a denial saying: "This is an inaccurate report of a private conversation and it is not my view."
Asked in an interview with the BBC why Prescott might deny it, Cohen claimed it might be politically expedient "not to upset the Americans."
He said he thought many of his fellow MPs and the wider population would agree that the US should have done more, in recent years, in pushing the road map.
Cohen said Prescott's "crap" comment had been specific to the US efforts on the road map and was not a view of Bush generally, the Bush administration as a whole or the Bush administration's general Middle East policy.
Cohen is a Labor MP in East London. He's a socialist and member of the Socialist Campaign Group, a left-wing group of Labor MPs that is highly critical of Tony Blair and "New Labor." He is an anti-war campaigner and has voted against the government on the war with Iraq.
He is also a pro-Palestinian campaigner and in the past has been part of a group trying to twin the London Borough of Tower Hamlets with Jenin.
Last month Cohen signed a parliamentary motion calling for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon. While the motion condemned Hizbullah for the rocket attacks on northern Israel and the abduction of Israeli soldiers, it called for the release of "all prisoners held illegally without trial as a means to end the current crisis."
The motion read: "Israel's disproportionate military actions in Gaza and Lebanon, including an air and sea blockade of Lebanon, attacks on the airport in Beirut on 13 July and the killing of at least 35 Lebanese civilians within the first 24 hours, risk provoking further regional conflict by seriously jeopardizing the fragile political landscape in Lebanon."
In July, Cohen signed a motion condemning Israel's actions in Gaza. The motion said: "We [signatories] are gravely concerned by the recent Israeli military attack in the Gaza Strip, disabling an essential power station that supplies 65% of the region's electricity, including power for a water pumping station; and shares Christian Aid's concerns that this will only deepen the suffering of the civilian population as essential goods including food, water and fuel have been made scarce due to Israeli military actions."
Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, responded to Prescott's comments by saying he's been called worse in the past and would likely be called worse in the future.
Speaking to ABC News, Snow said: "The president has been called a lot worse and, I suspect, will be. And there will be piquant names, sort of, hurled his way from time to time, but you know that's part of the burden of leadership."
Asked about the alleged falling support among the British public for the US position in the Middle East and Blair's alliance with Bush on Middle East policy, Snow replied: "Blair understands, just as the president does, wars create anxiety and he understands that this is an unpopular thing. People don't like to be anxious. They don't like to worry about it."
Many disgruntled Labor MPs are urging the deputy prime minister to go public with his concerns about Blair's close support of Bush and Israel.
Ann Cryer, member of the Home Affairs Committee and a pro-Palestinian activist, said: "I have no doubt there is a very large number of Labor MPs who will be agreeing with what John Prescott is alleged to have said. I agree with it, there is huge concern right across the Labor back bench."
Jim Sheridan, who resigned as a parliamentary defense aide in protest over the Middle East crisis, said: "I don't think the Americans have given the road map the priority it deserves and until you solve the problem of Palestine, other problems are going to appear."
John Trickett, who led a campaign to recall Parliament to discuss the Middle East crisis, said: "There appears to be a national feeling that the actions and language of the British government are actively hindering the prospects for peace in the Middle East, simultaneously enhancing the threat from terrorism that the UK clearly faces."
Blair is planning to go to the Middle East to revive the road map after he returns to the UK following his vacation.