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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 March, 2004, 12:58 GMT
Prime Ministers Questions
Commons sketch
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Surely the fact that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott massacres the English language is no longer a source of hilarity.

Menzies Campbell, Michael Ancram and John Prescott
Clearly not the case. Tory backbencher Peter Luff was beside himself with mirth when he used Mr Prescott's question time appearance to poke fun at his grammatical gaffes.

Would the deputy premier help celebrate the Plain English campaign's successes and its actions against gobbledegook, he asked.

He got a ripple of laughter, combined with a lot of what sounded like yodelling from the Labour benches.

But Mr Prescott was at his most charming - no clenched knuckles and implied threats to see him in the playground after.

Identity cards

Mr Luff may get his grammar right, but he lost out when it came to political thinking and commonsense, replied the man widely known as "Thumper".

In fact, Mr Prescott was pretty much sweetness and light throughout, happily agreeing that questioning MPs had got a point, or admitting that there were indeed cabinet debates over identity cards.

The approach certainly worked against Tory deputy Michael Ancram who decided to attack the prime minister's plans to visit Colonel Gadaffi in Libya.

Mr Prescott took the line which will certainly strike a chord on Labour benches and probably amongst voters, that jaw, jaw is always better than war, war.

He didn't use that expression, instead he insisted it was always better to keep talking to people like the Libyan leader - after all, it had worked with the IRA, he said.

Although, when he started condemning violence and unilateral action in favour of negotiation, there was a definite stage whisper of "like Iraq" from somewhere on the backbenches.

But, that aside, it was a perfectly good, gaffe free performance which scored particularly well with his own backbenchers.

Those attempting to guess beforehand where the blunders may have come were suggesting Mr Prescott might have the prime minister going to the Tivoli in Liberia to meet Daffy.

Like Mr Luff's intervention, they all seemed a bit stale, cheap and certainly on this occasion well wide of the mark.




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