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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 13:19 GMT
Prime Ministers Questions

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Michael Howard was, presumably, keeping his powder dry for the following debate on the Hutton inquiry and related matters.

Kennedy pressed home his attack on WMD inquiry
So, no great clash with the prime minister about the issues in the front of people's minds.

Indeed, had his questions about the prime minister's failed or broken promises been asked in a less Transylvania meets Llanelli accent, it could have been Iain Duncan Smith at the despatch box.

And, as a result, the contest was about as interesting. That is, not very.

His points were perfectly valid and, to an extent, embarrassing for the prime minister - and rest assured the issue of immigration from Eastern Europe will return - but they also appeared to be off the agenda.

Stitch up

Obviously he did not want to waste his ammunition for the following debate on the Hutton report.

And on the new, Butler inquiry, there is little mischief he can cause there, because he has joined it.

This was Kennedy's question time
Not so Charles Kennedy who has boycotted the Butler inquiry claiming it is, in effect, a pre-emptive stitch up. So he went for the double whammy.

By getting the prime minister to admit the inquiry would not consider the political judgements applied to the intelligence gathered before going to war on Iraq, he hit at both the prime minister and the Tory leader.

His questions were designed to add to the impression that Tony Blair has ensured this inquiry cannot deal with the most pressing questions over why Britain went to war.

Groundhog Day

They also sought to ensure that Michael Howard's suggestion that he has joined the inquiry because it WILL answer those questions is just plain wrong.

So, this question time at least, was Mr Kennedy's.

Until, that is, Dennis "the beast of Bolsover" Skinner got to his feet to tear into those anti-war individuals who, he insisted, would never be satisfied with any inquiry.

It was, he said, like Groundhog Day, with the prime minister's critics demanding one inquiry, then another inquiry, then another inquiry.

"I could not have put it better myself," said the prime minister before adding: "Indeed I did not put it better myself."

Dennis Skinner and Tony Blair as best pals? Now there is a political marriage made in hell.




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