Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Admits Affair with Secretary Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

After Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott admitted that he had a two-year affair with his secretary, Tracey Temple, she went public with her story and maintained that he used his power to get her into a sexual relationship, and that the two often had sex in his office. This abuse of power constituted sexual harassment, but the media focused on the relationship.

Summary of Event

John Prescott had been a key figure in Tony Blair’s Labour Party government since the election of 1997. Before this time, Prescott was a combative figure in union affairs and in public debates with Conservatives. He had moved from old-style Labour to join Blair’s New Labour, and for this he was valued by the new prime minister. He had been a senior cabinet minister, first as combined transport and environment minister, then picking up the employment portfolio. In 1997, he succeeded Michael Heseltine as deputy prime minister. [kw]Deputy Prime Minister Admits Affair with Secretary, Britain’s (Apr. 26, 2006) Prescott, John Diaries;John Prescott[Prescott] Temple, Tracey Blair, Tony Sexual harassment;and John Prescott[Prescott] Prescott, John Diaries;John Prescott[Prescott] Temple, Tracey Blair, Tony Sexual harassment;and John Prescott[Prescott] [g]Europe;Apr. 26, 2006: Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Admits Affair with Secretary[03580] [g]England;Apr. 26, 2006: Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Admits Affair with Secretary[03580] [c]Sex;Apr. 26, 2006: Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Admits Affair with Secretary[03580] [c]Sex crimes;Apr. 26, 2006: Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Admits Affair with Secretary[03580] [c]Government;Apr. 26, 2006: Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Admits Affair with Secretary[03580] [c]Politics;Apr. 26, 2006: Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Admits Affair with Secretary[03580] [c]Public morals;Apr. 26, 2006: Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Admits Affair with Secretary[03580] [c]Women’s issues;Apr. 26, 2006: Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Admits Affair with Secretary[03580]

In late 2002, Prescott began an affair with his newly appointed diary secretary, Tracey Temple, an affair that lasted about two years. Temple was thirty-seven years old and Prescott was sixty-one. However, it was not until 2006, some two years after the affair had ended, that Temple decided to go to Max Clifford, a leading British publicist, with her story. Clifford negotiated a $500,000 deal with the Daily Mail to buy her story. It was published on Sunday, April 30. The popular and competitive Sunday papers in Britain have traditionally given themselves over to scandal of all kinds, and they are always prepared to pay large sums for any story about the disgrace of a public figure. The Prescott story filled nine pages.

Prescott discovered the imminent deal between Temple and the newspaper, a deal not completed until Saturday, April 29. He decided to go public first, and on April 26 admitted to his two-year affair. Prescott’s admission was followed on the Saturday of the deal with a television interview of Temple, in which she stated that she had to let people know the truth, but added, “But I never, ever thought I would actually have to do anything like this.” She claimed that news of the affair was going to break anyway, that she had had minimal support from Prescott, and therefore she had decided to make her move. She claimed to have been manipulated and said that falsehoods about her were circulating.

Prescott himself denounced the publication of her story and the press’s raking through details of politicians’ private lives, and he also accused Temple of making up much of it. He threatened to sue. Much of this could be seen as typical bluster. More significant, the government immediately announced its continuing support for Prescott, claiming he still had a vital role to play and that the affair was a private matter that had no effect on the course of government.

The material Temple supplied to the Daily Mail was based on a diary she had kept, which was frequently quoted by the newspaper. The most sensational part of the diary was the rendezvous the lovers kept, which were often in government buildings or buildings occupied by Prescott on a “grace and favor” lease as part of his job. Thus, they met in his apartment in Admiralty Arch, just down the road from Whitehall, where Prescott had his office. Some of the affair was conducted in his own office, while his staff were working outside, sometimes even with the door open. More damaging, she claimed they had sex immediately after a significant public event: a memorial service for the war in Iraq War Iraq, held in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, in October, 2003. They also had sex in a hotel room while Prescott’s wife, Pauline, was waiting downstairs.

Prescott had made little attempt to be discreet about the relationship. He invited Temple to escort his wife to the state opening of Parliament in 2002, soon after the affair had begun at a Christmas party. This was an inappropriate invitation, given that Temple was only his diary secretary, a somewhat junior position. He had also engaged in sexual banter with her in front of other colleagues and had caressed her in public elevators in his office building.

Temple stated that she enjoyed the attention. Her boyfriend at the time, Barrie Williams, had more to tell another popular newspaper, the Daily Mirror. He stated that Temple’s sexual appetite was large, and after a few drinks she became very adventurous and flirtatious. He had been quite unaware of the affair, even though Temple asked him to marry her just after embarking on the affair with Prescott. He thought Temple had reveled in her power, though she explicitly denied this.

Impact

The immediate impact of the scandal for Temple was that she was shifted to a minor position as a gardener for two months. She was then given a low-key post at the University of Westminster. Finally, in January, 2007, she was given back her old job in the deputy prime minister’s office, but with no immediate contact with Prescott. In fact, very soon after, Prescott resigned and was not involved with the cabinet of the new prime minister, Gordon Brown.

For Prescott, the scandal could have cost him his job. He held a delicate position in the government, as a sort of point of contact between Blair and his chancellor, Brown. While not in Blair’s innermost circle of advisers, Prescott was in a very senior position. Although there was no breach of security, and none suggested, he did become something of a figure of fun as a result of the affair, and he lost a good deal of credibility. Previous displays of inappropriate behavior made Prescott something of a liability for a while, but Blair was typically loyal to old colleagues and was prepared to protect him.

Prescott’s forty-four-year marriage remained intact, though there were stories of Pauline Prescott’s fury over the affair. Prescott himself asked for privacy for his family, though a television comedy about the affair, Confessions of a Diary Secretary (February, 2007), was hardly the answer he wanted. Rumors of an earlier affair threatened but never came to light. Prescott was thus able to remain in office.

For the government, the affair came on the heels of other embarrassing faux pas, especially the Home Office minister’s admission that criminals recommended for deportation at the end of their prison sentence were not being sent back to their country of origin, and earlier sexual scandals involving Robin Cook, a former foreign secretary, and others. Many believed that Blair was losing his grip on his government ministers. However, Blair kept his equilibrium and resigned in 2007, a time of his choosing, after ten years in power. Prescott, John Diaries;John Prescott[Prescott] Temple, Tracey Blair, Tony Sexual harassment;and John Prescott[Prescott]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Colin. Fighting Talk: Biography of John Prescott. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. An account of Prescott’s early rise to power, from a ship’s steward to union organizer and from Old Labour to New Labour. However, the account predates his rise to deputy prime minister and the Temple affair.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mackenzie, Kelvin. The John Prescott Kama Sutra. London: John Blake, 2006. An example of Prescott becoming a figure of fun after the affair. In this spoof, the author revisits the sites where Prescott and Temple had sex.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Seldon, Anthony. Blair’s Britain, 1997-2007. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. This magisterial work gives the fullest account of the Blair years and Prescott’s place within them.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“We Made Love in John’s Office.” The Mail on Sunday (London), April 29, 2006. The news article that continued the story of Prescott’s affair with Temple.

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