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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 18:57 GMT
Assinder's Question Time verdict
Charles Kennedy, Iain Duncan Smith and Tony Blair
Nick Assinder

Like a bonfire night rocket, Iain Duncan Smith crackled into action and shot straight across the Commons chamber at Tony Blair's head.

But, just as it looked as if he was about to cause some serious damage, he fizzled out and dropped just short of his target.

For the second question time running, he had the right issues - the hard-pressed health service and the crumbling transport system.

But, once again, he failed to draw blood - although it was a much closer call than in previous clashes and he may have had little idea of the row that would later erupt over the claims and counter claims.

Radical improvements

The prime minister came armed with letters and excuses about the last lot's performance and managed to turn the exchange into a row over public spending versus Tory cuts.

He even claimed to be delighted that the issue should be at the centre of the next general election campaign.

Charles Kennedy
Probed on Lords reform
He must really believe that, by then, ordinary voters will be experiencing the radical improvements in the country's public services he has been promising since 1997.

He keeps telling everyone that the voters are behind his reforms as the only way forward.

And he never shows the slightest sign that the mumbling of disillusion, including from his own backbenches, have dented his self-belief.

What he does display when he is under attack, however, is an irritation with his detractor.

And, for the second week running, there was plenty of that on view - a sure sign that Mr Duncan Smith was nettling him.

He showed it when Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy put him neatly on the spot over his plans to reform the House of Lords.

And he could hardly contain himself when Mr Duncan Smith ridiculed his numerous transport plans.

If the Tory leader keeps this up, continues targeting the right issues and concentrates his fire then it can't be long before he lands a good punch.

Week-by-week he seems to be getting closer. On Wednesday he was tantalisingly close, but not quite there.

Do you agree with Assinder's verdict?

See also:

17 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Tories benefit from Labour woes
18 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Canberra and pigeons in firing line
17 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Assinder's Question Time verdict
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