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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
Prime Minister's Questions

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

It may be called Prime Minister's question time, but this one was all about the opposition leader.

Iain Duncan Smith is under fire on numerous fronts - and the Labour benches are loving every second of it, even though they love to boast he is their greatest asset.

As MPs returned from their summer break, betting on his future is the only game in town.

So all anyone wanted to see in this weekly clash was the reception IDS got from his own benches. A massive cheer as it happened. He even managed a smile as a result.

Secondly, whether Labour would barrack him in their glee that it is him and no longer their own boss who is facing a leadership crisis.

Or whether they would rise above it and let him stew in his own juice. Guess which they chose.

Slim pickings

Mr Duncan Smith did his best, under the circumstances, by concentrating on the issues of rocketing Council Tax and pensioner poverty.

Tony Blair batted them all away in his now traditional one-hand-tied-behind-his-back style.

He had particular fun reminding the Tory leader that, while he now claims to be the champion for restoring the link between pensions and earnings, it was the last Tory government which abandoned it in the first place.

The fact that New Labour has persistently refused to restore it is, presumably, neither here nor there.

Mr Duncan Smith's performance was no better or worse than his batting average.

So he may not have done anything to boost his position, but he probably didn't make matters worse.

But it was all slim pickings and even the Labour front bench seemed less than engaged.

As the prime minister revelled in tearing Tory backbenchers apart one by one, Paul Boateng scratched his ear, Andrew Smith appeared to be doing a crossword and Gordon Brown scowled, as usual.

Tony Blair was wearing a particularly fetching tie.


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