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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 January, 2004, 12:53 GMT
Prime Ministers Questions

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

It started badly for Michael Howard. Then it went downhill.

Blair had the look of a confident man
Tony Blair got the sort of reception from his backbenchers that suggested he was free and clear of any threat to his leadership.

And he certainly looked like a man who had read the Hutton report and was supremely confident of his position.

If he believed Lord Hutton was about to drop a bombshell, he deserved an Oscar for his upbeat, aggressive and commanding performance.

He, of course, knew something most of the rest of us did not - except Michael Howard who had also read the report. Perhaps that is why the Tory leader looked so glum.

And for the first time in their weekly sessions, it was the prime minister who took his opponent by the throat and gave him a good shaking.

In the clear

Firstly, Mr Howard found his line of attack over the leaking of the Hutton report undermined by his own party Chairman, Liam Fox.

Kennedy hit the mark
So, when the Tory leader demanded an inquiry to find out the source of the leak, the prime minister happily agreed, then threw back at him the comments by Mr Fox earlier in the day when he bluntly accused the government of the leak.

And he was angry, with the sort of anger that usually comes from somebody happy they are in the clear.

Later, he went on to demand that Mr Howard should apologise if it was found he had not "lied" over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, as previously claimed by Mr Howard.

Fees vote

All those studying the body language came to the same conclusion - this was a man who has been dangled over the abyss before being handed his own personal jet pack.

Like 007, he turned the throttle and soared above it all.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy did better by focusing on the prime minister's narrow victory in the tuition fees vote the night before.

His suggestion was that it was really Chancellor Gordon Brown who was pulling the strings here, rather than the prime minister.

But there was no knocking the steam from the prime minister.

And we all had only a few minutes left to find out for sure if his confidence was warranted.




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