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EDITIONS
Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Blair's command performance
Prime minister Tony Blair taking press questions
Blair took on all comers

It started with a slide show which had all the impact of dad showing the holiday snaps to the neighbours.

And it ended an hour-and-a-half later with the prime minister declaring that it looked like everybody had had enough.

In between, Tony Blair took questions on every subject under the sun, although it is debatable how much anybody learned as a result of it all.

What is certain is that, for the second time, the prime minister's minders will be delighted with his performance.

Never again can he be accused of ducking the hard questions or isolating himself from his critics.

There may be questions over just how tough the questioning was, but that is not down to him. And, in any case, it was a pretty comprehensive run around the course.

Questions ducked

Neither can Mr Blair be charged with attempting to manipulate or control the event.

He did use it to map out the successes of his delivery unit - that was the slide show.

And, whenever he got a question on public services, he gave long, detailed answers setting out exactly what his ministers are doing to put it all right - and that was when the hacks started shuffling in their seats.

Some questions were ducked - on exactly how and when MPs will be consulted over the looming war with Iraq, for example.

It appears the answer to that one is: after the event.

War opposition

Most people are quite ready to accept the idea that the prime minister cannot go into the Commons chamber and announce he is going to bomb Saddam Hussein a week on Wednesday - if that's OK with them.

But they do expect to be consulted properly and in a way that will allow them to express their opposition to the war.

And they just want to know precisely how he intends to do that.

Claiming he will follow the precedent set by the attacks on Afghanistan doesn't help.

And there were a couple of other occasions when he made statements that appeared a little out of kilter with the facts.

Not socialism

But that is probably nit picking. This was another one of the prime minister's consummate performances.

Indeed, one US journalist left the meeting declaring: "If only our man could do that."

There was one dodgy moment when he was asked about his moves towards "centralism".

He was genuinely taken aback "what was that, what did you say" he asked with patent disbelief.

When the question was repeated he breathed a huge sigh, smiled and declared: "Oh, I thought you said socialism."

And so it went on. And on. It was hot, it was getting nowhere in particular and, when he eventually asked: "Shall I take a couple more then call it a day" the answer was a resounding "yes."

Still, we must not carp. It is far, far better these things are now happening than for them not to happen.

And, if they really do happen on a monthly basis from September, they can only get better.

See also:

25 Jul 02 | Politics
20 Jun 02 | Politics
02 May 02 | Politics
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