John Prescott has called for former home secretary Alan Johnson to return to frontline politics as Labour's election campaign chief, saying that Ed Miliband needs someone who can speak "simple language" and relate to people in both the north and south.
As David Cameron prepares his own reshuffle, expected on Tuesday, the former Labour deputy leader says there is "something missing" in Miliband's top team, which Johnson, a former postman and union official, can provide.
The remarks, while intended as helpful, are unlikely to please either Miliband – who Prescott implies is incapable of winning without someone with the common touch alongside him – or his deputy, Harriet Harman, who was furious when secret plans to lock her out of key election meetings were published in the Observer last year.
Writing in his Sunday Mirror column, Prescott says it would normally be expected that, as deputy leader, Harman would lead the campaign. But he suggests she has too much on her plate. "Alan Johnson needs to be Labour's new campaigner-in-chief. He's a fantastic communicator, has bags of real life experience and talks in a language that people understand."
He argues that what Labour needs is someone "able to speak in simple language, have the skill and experience to deliver credibility and support Ed on the road to Downing Street. Someone who understands the north and south."
Last year Prescott tore into the Labour leadership, accusing it of wasting a summer and lacking policies. Now the problem is different, he says. "We have great policies, we'll be campaigning to save the NHS during the summer and we've got a strong election team led by Douglas Alexander … But there's something missing. Ed Miliband needs his best players on the pitch. Especially a proven striker who's popular with the public."
Johnson, who held a string of cabinet positions under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said last month that he had "no desire whatsoever" to return to the frontline, though he has not completely ruled out another cabinet role in the event of Miliband forming a Labour government. Having resigned as shadow chancellor in January 2011, Johnson has had considerable success with his autobiographical book, This Boy, and is working on a sequel.Sources close to Harman said Prescott was entitled to his opinion. But they stressed that Harman had a campaign tour planned planned for next January and was already heavily involved in election planning.
Downing Street sources said Cameron would probably begin his reshuffle on Tuesday and that his aim would be to "produce a team that we will put to the electorate at the election". He is expected to remove several members of the old guard such as ex-chancellor Kenneth Clarke and chief whip Sir George Young, while promoting a number of young MPs and junior ministers.
Cameron is likely to promote a number of female MPs as he tries to get near to realising his promise to raise the proportion of women ministers to a third of the total by the end of this parliament. Among those most likely to be promoted to the cabinet are Liz Truss, the childcare minister and Esther McVey, a former television presenter who is currently employment minister.
The prime minister is almost certain to announce his choice as the UK's next EU commissioner, with the universities minister David Willetts, Andrew Lansley, the leader of the House of Commons and former Tory leader Lord Howard among those in the frame.
Allies of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said rumours he would be moved, and possibly swap places with defence secretary Philip Hammond, were speculation. Duncan Smith, who has been criticised for the slow delivery of universal credit – a radical benefit reform designed to increase incentives for the jobless to move into work – has made clear he wants to stay in the job. "Moving him would be a complete gift to the opposition," said one supporter.
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