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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Prime Minister's Questions

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Oh the sincerity of it all.

Iain Duncan Smith welcomed the prime minister back to good health.

And Tony Blair graciously thanked him for his good wishes.

Lib Dem Alan Beith said he hoped all three party leaders would remain in good health and stay in their jobs.

The mischievous old devil.

Dodgy heart

Backbencher Joan Walley expressed her delight that her glorious leader was back at the helm, fighting injustice wherever it raised its head.

Tony Blair probably did not want yet another reminder that he has a dodgy heart - so Ms Walley will almost certainly remain a backbencher.

There was absolutely nothing in the prime minister's demeanour to suggest he was in anything other than rude health - despite another hair-tearing visit to Belfast.

So it was back to business as usual. Depressingly, the usual business was yet another breakdown in the Northern Ireland peace process.

It was more fun when attention moved to the Liberal Democrat's spending policies. Then it was clearly the prime minister was enjoying himself.

Criminal catching

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy briefly unsettled by asking why he was breaking an election manifesto promise not to introduce top up fees for students.

His question brought the innovative reply that, that was why he wasn't going to do it until after the next election.

Then Mr Duncan Smith hit his target with a powerful attack over the government's record on crime.

The figures are up, he said. No, they are down, said the prime minister.

No, said IDS, they are up - and what the public want is not another eye-catching initiative as suggested by Downing Street advisers, but some criminal-catching initiatives.

His backbenchers may be plotting to dump him, but they loved this particular sound bite.

And, it must be said, this is fertile and traditional turf for the Tories, once the unchallenged party of law and order.

Whatever the true figures are, most ordinary citizens probably believe they are experiencing a rise in crime.

Finally, it all launched into outer space with a question about whether the prime minister had looked at the milky way galaxy lately and, if so, what was he going to do to stop light pollution which is destroying that experience.

Perplexed but unfazed, the prime minister made a great show of searching through his papers for the appropriate Whitehall brief before reading it out and declaring: "That is what we are going to do."

His heart never skipped a beat.




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