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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 November, 2004, 12:58 GMT
Prime minister's questions
Commentary
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

It only took a single mention of the name Kerry for Labour backbenchers to erupt into cheers.

The US election hung over proceedings
They want the Democrat to win the US presidential election - even if all the signs before question time were that he had failed - and some of the cheerers, at least, suspected the prime minister has major reservations.

So some of the cheers for Kerry were, quite deliberately, sneers for the prime minister.

Mr Blair was, of course, spared from having to join in because the official result of the US election was still being awaited.

He may have wanted to join in - a Kerry victory might, after all, help him get off the Iraq hook on which he is now speared for as long as George Bush is in the White House.

Then again, any swelling of support he may have felt for the Democratic challenger would have been qualified by the fear of having a more war wary President over the water.

Fed up

If the prime minister was suffering such internal emotional turmoil, however, it didn't show.

What did show, once again, was his temper. He really is getting fed up with Michael Howard (and a few of his own rebellious backbenchers).

Tony Blair
Blair let his anger show
The opposition leader's evidence that government officials had been swapping emails with the bosses of top Las Vegas casinos over money laundering laws got him very wound up.

If Mr Howard was alleging corruption he might as well say so, he snapped back.

No, claimed Mr Howard, he was stating that the Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell - whose week this has most definitely not been - had not told it as it was when she had previously reassured MPs there had been no such contact.

It was a clash that went on and, ultimately got nowhere.

Criminal record

Which was at least better than the subsequent exchange with Mr Howard in which the opposition leader was left looking roundly defeated.

Michael Howard
Howard accused ministers over gambling
It was a point about shoplifters no longer getting a criminal record - which, apparently, is not necessarily the case. And Mr Blair forcibly put him right.

Mr Howard knows well enough, however, to go and check the prime minister's words against the reality before he admits final defeat on these sorts of clashes. So this one may well come back.

Charles Kennedy spotted that, with the US election dominating the news, there was little point making much of a show in question time.

So his appeal for people to vote in the North East regional assembly poll on Thursday was probably well judged.

But, with MPs clearly desperate to get out of the chamber and back to their TV screens for the latest on the US election, the entire proceedings quickly petered out.




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