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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 October, 2004, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Prime minister's questions
Commentary
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online Political Correspondent

Getting duffed up by Michael Howard is bad enough for the prime minister.

Blair faced backbench sniping
Getting told off by Speaker Michael Martin doesn't delight him either.

But having one of his own backbenchers suggesting - if not in so many words - that he should quit just about puts the cap on it.

And Tony Blair got all of it during another ill-tempered question time session.

Firstly, the Tory leader accused him, in effect, of telling fibs over his plans to cut numbers in the armed forces.

Then he followed through by quoting the prime minister's former Europe adviser, Derek Scott, who has branded Mr Blair "gutless" in his approach to the EU.

These both scored hits, if only flesh wounds.

Great job

But then the Speaker intensified the prime minister's discomfort by telling him that, rather than attempting to question the Opposition leader as is his wont, he should answer the questions put to him.

Finally Labour MP Gordon Prentice referred to the prime minister's previous pledges to "renew" the country and asked: "Is there a single act of renewal that would make the UK public sit up and notice".

Michael Howard
Mr Howard scored some hits
We all knew exactly what he meant - and the prime minister was certainly in no doubt about what he meant.

And it made him mad. So mad that he could not disguise his contempt for Labour MPs who are not on -side and going out telling the world what a great job the government was doing.

Setting out that record, he snapped back at Mr Prentice: "Maybe he should go back and tell his constituents about it."

"Ooooh" came the response from around the chamber.

Listening mode

The prime minister was also put on notice that many of his backbenchers expect changes to his policy on gambling - particularly allowing super casinos into Britain.

The row over this has taken time to build a head of steam, but has been helped on its way by the newspapers.

Now it has started to bubble it has put the wind up the government. And Mr Blair was notably conciliatory in his responses on this one.

Earlier in the day Culture Minister Lord McIntosh had attempted to placate concerned backbenchers by pointing out the proposals were overwhelmingly about regulation of the industry.

The prime minister put the same argument, and it appears most of his MPs are willing to accept that.

But this could yet build into a real difficulty for the government and the indication from the prime minister was that he is in listening mode and, possibly, open to persuasion.

Meanwhile, if he is not careful, there's a good chance Mr Prentice will be getting a knock on his door from the Whips.




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