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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 13:20 GMT
Prime minister's questions
Sketch
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Half way through a question time watching what was going on behind the two leaders and it struck me.

Never mind the leaders - look behind them
When he is in sneering mode, deputy prime minister John Prescott recalls no one more than Les Dawson at his absolute best.

He sat there throughout the now predictably lacklustre session, arms folded across his ample chest, lips clamped together around an invisible string of spaghetti, mouthing silent protestations.

Stick him in a pinny with a peg bag and, dare to say it, a rolling pin and he is Les Dawson's famous northern housewife gossip, Ada Sidebottom.

No sooner had the idea struck - and it will never now leave me - than a glance at the opposition front bench completed the picture.

Two dames

Sitting alongside his own leader and opposite Mr Prescott was the other half of the comedy sketch - in the shape of Eric Pickles.

Mr Pickles mirrored Mr Prescott - arms folded, disapproving countenance, muttered asides. The perfect Cissie Braithwaite to the deputy prime minister's Ada.

Les Dawson
Dawson: A dead ringer for Mr Prescott?
At one point, in an attempt to stop the file of papers slipping from his grasp, he even appeared to hitch up his bosom in the style of the two dames.

This is one double act that should be booked immediately before panto season is over.

As for the rest of the pantomime, Michael Howard's anger boiled over again, this time over the shambles that is the Child Support Agency.

The prime minister has found his best response to these sorts of eruptions - he comes over all reasonable.

Flash flood

The fact that the Tory leader had told the Guardian newspaper that he was frustrated at his inability to get to the prime minister seemed to encouraged this approach from Mr Blair.

And it probably worked. The tetchier Mr Howard got, the more reasonable and calm Mr Blair became.

He did the same to Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy who also got very hot under the collar about the CSA.

The problems being faced by thousands of parents who are failing to get the payments they deserve is clearly no laughing matter.

And Mr Kennedy's suggestion that the entire agency should be scrapped will probably attract widespread support.

But the prime minister brushed it all aside with another flash flood of reasonableness.

And Mr Prescott hitched up his chest and mouthed his support.




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