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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Prime minister's questions
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online Political Correspondent

You could hear backbenchers shouting "and about time too".

Tony Blair was gently rebuked for his approach
When Commons Speaker Michael Martin ticked off Tony Blair for, in effect, turning prime minister's question time into leader of the opposition's question time, there was a great cheer of agreement.

Answering Michael Howard's questions with a demand to know what he would do, or telling MPs of the political atrocities being planned by the Tories, is one of Tony Blair's favourite tricks.

So much so it has become a regular source of frustration - and not just for Tory MPs.

After the latest example, in an otherwise unusually lacklustre clash, Mr Speaker politely yet firmly told Tony Blair: "the policies of the Opposition are not really a matter for the prime minister."

Mirror pictures

It had absolutely no effect whatsoever, of course.

The nimble footed prime minister accepted the rebuke with a smile, apologised and declared he would instead talk about the policies he would not be pursuing.

In other words, he would map out the policies the Opposition would introduce if they were ever elected. And he did just that.

So what we got was yet another bit of electioneering.

With crucial local, European and London assembly polls only a month away that is only to be expected.

It doesn't make it any more satisfying for those MPs and observers hoping to leave question time enlightened, however.

Meanwhile, the issue that is gripping Westminster - the controversial Mirror pictures depicting alleged abuses of Iraqi prisoners by British soldiers - was only skirted around.

Michael Howard raised it but neither Mr Blair or the Opposition leader appeared to want to push it too far.

But rest assured, once the investigation into the pictures reports back, this issue will quickly shoot to the top of the agenda.

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