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Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
Prime Minister's Questions
BBC News Online's Nick Assinder gives his instant view on the winners and losers during Tony Blair's weekly grilling in the House of Commons.

Labour MP Stephen Pound raised ex-minister Peter Mandelson's comment that, economically speaking, "we are all Thatcherite now".

Mr Pound asked Mr Blair: "May I, as a Bevanite who aspires to be a Blairite, tell you that there are thousands of us who would rather undergo root canal surgery without anaesethic, be cast away on a desert island with the honourable member for Lewes with no earplugs or even be entertained for a full and frank discussion in the Whips Office than accept such a description. May I ask you, what is your view?"

Tory MP Sir Peter Tapsell put Mr Blair on the spot, asking: "If you recommend to the British people that there should abandon the pound sterling in a referendum and they reject your advice, will you resign?"

Mr Blair, perhaps surprisingly, didn't recite the usual line about the famous five economic tests for euro membership. Nor, Sir Peter would no doubt say, did he answer the question.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith chose to use his questions to demand a personal apology from Mr Blair for his treatment of the Paddington rail crash survivors, as well as to attack government "spin" over welfare reform.

For his offensive, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy called for tighter rules on special advisers, especially over what work they could do for private companies when they left government.

Among the issues raised by backbench MPs were: trials on a more liberal approach to cannabis possession; data protection rules hindering the fight against crime; homeowners' problems getting insurance in flood risk areas; and IRA decommissioning.

Tony Blair's new Sven-style rimless spectacles lasted from the first minute to the last.

Unfortunately the prime minister's habit of adjusting them suggests that they either don't fit properly, or that he is yet to feel comfortable wearing them.

Perhaps some more Sven-spec training sessions behind closed doors would be advised.

SNP MP Alex Salmond, who managed two effective digs at the prime minister in one question.

Referring to Mr Blair's row with the press over the Queen Mother's funeral among other things, his sarcasm was effective as he said: "I know the prime minister feels put upon by the press at the moment and I sure we all share his pain."

He then went on to bring up the now infamous e-mail from a transport department adviser asking about the political sympathies of Paddington rail crash survivors.

Saying he had read reports that Rolling Stone Mick Jagger was to be given a knighthood, he said that while no-one would begrudge the singer such an honour, surely the likes of Pam Warren, one of the crash survivors, would surely be a suitable candidate for such recognition.

The government has been deeply embarrassed by the row over the Paddington survivors group which Ms Warren once led - and Mr Blair really didn't want to have to address that particular question.

Tony Blair may have just returned from the short Commons recess - but he looked like a man who could not wait for the long summer break.

There is no doubt he is under the cosh, particularly over spin and alleged attempts to muscle in on the Queen Mother's lying-in-state and smear Paddington victims.

And Iain Duncan Smith, ably assisted by a series of "unhelpful" questions from the prime minister's own side, once again had him on the back foot.

His new tactic of zeroing in on specific policies, catching Mr Blair unprepared and exposing their apparent failures is proving a major success.

But it was surprising just how fed up the prime minister looked. He is not used to being duffed up quite so comprehensively, particularly by friendly fire.

You could almost see a cartoon bubble over his head containing a vision of an idylic Tuscan villa.

Do you agree with Nick?

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See also:

15 May 02 | Politics
15 May 02 | UK
14 May 02 | Politics

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