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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 12:40 GMT
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.

"This publication should be entered in the Booker Prize because everyone knows it is a classic work of fiction."

Iain Duncan Smith waving the Labour election manifesto after highlighting a series of what he called broken promises.

Charles Kennedy, Lib Dem leader, acting once more as the main voice against war fever.

He suggested that the case against Saddam Hussein was being weakened by attempts to link his regime and al-Qaeda when it appeared the intelligence services believed there was no link.

Asked about Tony Benn's television interview with Saddam Hussein, the prime minister said: "I don't think Mr Jeremy Paxman or John Humphrys is in any great risk in terms of a probing interview."

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the prime minister had broken his promises to reform the House of Lords, to remove failed asylum seekers and not to increase taxes.

He later asked if the prime minister thought the congestion charge was a good idea or a bad idea.

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy asked if the case against Saddam Hussein might be weakened by trying to link his regime to al-Qaeda when the UK intelligence services appeared to deny any link.

Other subjects included: The euro referendum timetable; Iraq; House of Lords; Palestine and Israel; London congestion charge; Modern apprenticeship scheme; Labour membership ban in Northern Ireland.

Well is there a link or is there not?

Iain Duncan Smith did his best to show there was a link. But the prime minister was having none of it.

Tony Blair chose his words very carefully, and insisted there was absolutely no evidence to suggest such a link.

And he's probably right. It really is up to Ken Livingstone to decide whether London drivers are subjected to a congestion charge or not.

Mr Duncan Smith was clearly out to tie the prime minister into the decision to charge motorists a fiver each time they drive into central London.

He hopes that, whatever the evidence, he will be able to leave voters with the impression that the prime minister is somehow to blame.

It's not a bad tactic. For example, suggesting there is clear evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda invites voters to make a link between Saddam and terrorism, whatever the facts actually show.

Meanwhile, Mr Duncan Smith - after another three Weetabix breakfast - pursued what he has clearly, and rightly, decided is an effective tactic.

Reeling off a series of the prime minister's broken election pledges, he waved around the last Labour manifesto, branding it a work of fiction.

This is the sort of mud that sticks. Mainly because voters are ready to make the clear link between Tony Blair and broken promises.


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