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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 17:18 GMT
Tony makes the most of it
Prime Minister Tony Blair and Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith attending the state opening of parliament
The Queen's speech gives the leaders a major platform

Queen's speech day is always the prime minister's day - and Tony Blair made the most of it.

While Chancellor Gordon Brown hogs the limelight during budget statements - sometimes to the apparent irritation of the prime minister - this is most definitely Tony's baby.

It is his platform to set out his government's route map for the parliamentary year and, inevitably, towards the next election.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith attempts humour
Unfortunately for Iain Duncan Smith, it is also one of the set piece events where he is expected to rise to the occasion in the Commons.

And even Mr Duncan Smith's admirers will admit his Commons performances are not his strong point.

And, after a couple of bloody weeks for the opposition leader, his friends wanted him to pull off something a bit special. But, despite a stronger than usual performance, he couldn't quite manage it.

Nodding off

Mr Duncan Smith's problem is that, when he attempts humour, more often than not it falls flat.

And when he sticks to the serious stuff, people start nodding off.

And there was a bit of both in his reaction to the Queen's speech.

His best joke was when complimenting Labour's Oona King for her speech opening the debate.

He reminded her she had once said she wanted to be either prime minister or an air hostess.

They were similar jobs, he said. Both spent their days reading out something pre-prepared and utterly predictable before jetting off around the world.

That lifted the spirits of his troops, but it was about the best of it.

Main arteries

His main theme was that Mr Blair kept on promising the earth while constantly failing to deliver.

"It's just more of the same, each year they promise more reform and each year they fail to deliver."

Labour MP Oona King
King won universal praise
The prime minister, sensing some Tory disappointment with their man's creaking - or more accurately croaking - performance went for the main arteries.

He may not be the best Commons performer the Palace of Westminster has seen either. But he knows when he's on to a winner.

He too praised Ms King, teasing her with the promise of a successful career ahead of her.

"But how successful and when successful, I cannot say."

He also used the occasion to set out the government's opposition to the firefighters' strike and insist there was no way he was about to buckle to such pressure.

Then he turned on Mr Duncan Smith. He welcomed him to his first Queen's speech debate and paused to allow for the inevitable Labour shouts of "and last."

And he went on to reveal the opposition leader was due to appear on Desert Island Discs next week - and helpfully suggested some Beatles records he could chose.

He paused again for Labour screams of "Help" before offering "You say hello, we say goodbye", and, you guessed it, "The sound of silence".

His book should be "Unite or die", penned by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, he suggested.

Mr Duncan Smith spotted a retort. "Well, he's still there," he yelled, before he thought about it.

Yes, said the prime minister, so the Tories should look forward to another 42 year's of Mr Duncan Smith's leadership.

No alternative

And, as usual, he attacked the Tories for opposing all his measures to create jobs, boost public services and tackle crime.

He has got this one down pat. His basic argument is that if you oppose his policies on, say, reforming the public services you must therefore oppose extra investment that goes with it.

He simply will not allow for the possibility that someone can oppose his policies because they have an alternative. It's a very successful technique.

His payoff was, it has to be said, pretty devastating.

"It's not so much the Tories are nasty or nice just that they are plain and simply irrelevant."

Mr Duncan Smith will, of course, survive this mauling but his stock with his own backbenchers remains about the same as it was before his speech.

And that's not hugely encouraging.

Key stories

Blair's programme


Queen's Speech quiz



See also:

13 Nov 02 | Politics
13 Nov 02 | Politics
13 Nov 02 | Politics
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