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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 14:47 GMT 15:47 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.

The only joke taking centre stage during question time, was comedian Rik Mayall's decision to impersonate Adolf Hitler in a cinema advert for the anti-euro campaign.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said that this was found "negative and offensive" by many people and urged the prime minister to condemn it.

Tony Blair replied that a joke was a joke, but said it was sad that the anti-euro campaign was basing its argument on an image of Europe 50 years out of date.

Mr Kennedy asked what sanctions would be taken against the Labour MPs who attended the advert's launch.

Mr Blair said celebrities, comedians or pop stars would not win the debate on the euro, but that the case would be won by the economic arguments. The best response to the ad was to win the argument, he added.

House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin celebrated his birthday with a sure-footed display.

A highlight was jumping in during a pause after a drawn-out point, and before the question from Labour MP Oona King, to say: "I think the prime minister has got the point."

Iain Duncan Smith urged the prime minister to end the softer approach to cannabis being tried out in Lambeth, south London. The Conservative leader also went on the offensive over the number of care home places that have closed during Labour's time in office. Mr Blair acknowledged there was a net reduction of 19,000 places.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was concerned by what he said was the "negative and offensive" commercial by the NO campaign over joining the euro.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said he was concerned over the ongoing amount of paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland.

Other issues raised included an ITV programme on jailed serial killer Harold Shipman; improved cancer treatments; legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use; the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan.

Once the image of Tony Blair being roasted on a spit had faded, the predictable reaction to question time was "bring back Cook and Forth".

The understudies provided some much-needed variety when they gave us their turns at question time last week.

But it's easy to do it once - holding your audience week after week is more difficult.

And this week the leaders were back, and it was all a bit more pedestrian.

Iain Duncan Smith missed the mark with his attack on the cannabis experiment in Brixton - but was on the button again over the closure of care homes for the elderly.

The prime minister had a fairly powerful counter-argument, but it's the headlines that count from this weekly clash.

And this time it was the Tory leader's undisputed claim that thousands of care beds have closed under Labour that will be remembered.

Apart, of course, from Tory MP Alan Duncan's claim that his constituents are so fed up with the government's policies they would roast the prime minister on a spit if he ever ventured into Rutland and Melton (that is where the pork pies come from isn't it).


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