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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Prime minister's questions
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online Political Correspondent

Pre-election question times are always pretty pointless.

Deputies had to stand in for leaders
Pre-election question times when the three main party leaders are not taking part are virtually irrelevant.

They give the parties a last chance to urge people to go out and vote for them and tell them precisely why they are the only party worthy of their support.

That is tedious enough when it comes from Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy.

When it's John Prescott, Michael Ancram and Sir Menzies Campbell it is a sure fire candidate for the TV set's "off" button.

And so it was on the last question time before "super" Thursday's polls.

Lobster thermidor

With Tony Blair at the G8 summit in Georgia, it fell to the deputies to stand in.

Just because it's the second division, however, does not mean these are always second rate occasions.

Indeed, watching former seaman John Prescott squaring up to Tory toff the Earl of Ancram can be a hugely enjoyable event.

Prescott noted importance of seafood
And once again Mr Prescott partly lived up to expectations with a relaxed, humorous performance which even included a joke about the significance of seafood in politics.

Quoting a Tory peer, he told Mr Ancram his party's policy on opting out of bits of the EU was like going into McDonalds and ordering lobster thermidor.

"It would be nice to have it, but it's not on the menu."

And he added: "I don't know what it is about seafood in politics..."

That was a reference to his recent meeting with Gordon Brown in the Loch Fyne oyster bar in which it was claimed they tried to stitch up the Labour leadership.

It got a big laugh - most notably from the Chancellor himself who looked chirpier than he has for a very long time indeed.

But, save that, it was all pretty predictable electioneering

Probably the most significant question was Mr Ancram's on the alleged chaos and even fraud in the experiment on postal voting for the elections.

Mr Prescott insisted all the claims would be investigated, but added it had already led to a major increase in turnout in those areas taking part in the experiment.

Oh - and go out and vote Labour, he added gratuitously.

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