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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Prime Minister's Questions


BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder gives his instant verdict on prime minister's question time from the House of Commons.

FIXTURE LIST

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith used his questions to ask why the government had no plans for a referendum on the proposed European convention.

Mr Blair said the plans would be handled like previous EU treaties, which were scrutinised in parliament.

In his second set of questions, Mr Duncan Smith turned to Iraq and shortages of food, water and healthcare in the country.

Mr Blair said the situation in Baghdad had been particularly difficult but that life was improving for the Iraqi people.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said a proposed UN resolution would give the US and the UK "total control" over Iraq's oil revenues.

Mr Blair said that was "absolute nonsense" and that oil revenues would go into an independent fund to be used for the people of Iraq.

Other subjects raised included the euro, UK citizens held in Saudi Arabia, the discovery of mass graves in Iraq, university education, Gibraltar, the discovery of documents in Iraq and why they were not secured by coalition forces, the "road map" for peace in the Middle East, foundation hospitals and sentencing policy.


QUOTE OF THE DAY

"How can the allies now avoid the charge that seems to be growing in being deficient in the planning for the peace?"

- Iain Duncan Smith raises the concerns of many about post-war Iraq


OFF FORM

Tory MP Tim Loughton tried to embarrass Mr Blair over the departure of Clare Short from the cabinet.

"The relationship between him and his cabinet is not so much a meeting of minds but more one of meat and vegetables," he said.

Could do better.


YELLOW CARD

Labour's Russell Brown threw Mr Blair a long hop, inviting him to batter the Tories over their plans to abolish university tuition fees.

It must have come close to breaking parliamentary conventions.


SEARCHING PASS

Labour MP John Cryer had the prime minister flummoxed as he asked him about free speech.

In a swipe over Clare Short's resignation and opposition to the Iraq war, he said: "Since you seem to be developing a fondness for taking action against those people who disagree with you, could you set out to the House the precise limits, as you see them, of free speech?"

Mr Blair ummed and aahed and frankly got a little bit stuck.


NICK ASSINDER'S VERDICT

If Iain Duncan Smith can't knock Tony Blair on his behind now, he probably never will.

So he probably won't - but it won't be for want of trying.

The prime minister has just suffered a major election defeat, his party is deeply divided over foundation hospitals, student finances and the euro, Iraq fallout is still fizzing around his head, and Clare Short has, virtually, accused him of going Napoleon-style potty.

So the opposition leader was spoilt for choice really. And it showed in his tortuous attempt to link many of these issue together under the general heading "we hate Europe".

And it was indeed a pretty heated, rumbustuous clash with lots of cheering, jeering and general silliness.

And there is no doubt the prime minister took some serious incoming.

Any call for the people to be given the opportunity to vote on an issue like creating a United States of Europe is bound to be a winner - even if nobody is planning anything of the sort.

But by the end of it all, the prime minister was still on his two feet.

Guess

He was clearly rocking but, like one of those kiddies' toys with weights in the bottom, he slowly rolled back into the upright position.

What is actually keeping Tony Blair upright at the moment is anybody's guess. It may just be that unshakeable self-belief many have noticed in him.

Mr Duncan Smith almost certainly got the right issues and he drive them home perfectly adequately.

His own party loved it - one or two of his dissenters may even just be beginning to think he has "got it" after all.

But it clearly needs something pretty exceptional to finally knock Mr Blair off his perch.

He must see the problems gathering around him, mustn't he? There's no sign of it.




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SEE ALSO:
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