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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 13:01 GMT
Prime minister's questions
Sketch
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Michael Howard has clearly been stung by suggestions he has lost his aggressive edge in question time.

Leaders traded blows over crime and ID cards
So he approached the first since the Queen's speech armed with his cosh and taser, ready to bludgeon or stun the prime minister into passivity over his record on crime.

The fact that the man responsible for all this, Home Secretary David Blunkett, was sitting alongside the prime minister and is already under the cosh over his private life went virtually un-remarked upon.

Mr Howard raised the issue of the inquiry into Mr Blunkett's alleged role in getting his ex-mistress's nanny a visa - but chose not to wield his big weapons.

There are, needless to say, theories about this in Westminster. One is that the Tories believe Mr Blunkett is finished and do not want to be seen going for the kill but rather to be acting responsibly and cautiously.

Tory territory

Another is that the opposition thinks Mr Blunkett is not fatally wounded and don't want to go over the top just yet. And they may even fear opening up a can of worms over MPs private lives from which no party would remain immune.

Michael Howard
Mr Howard was back on form
Either way, Mr Howard hung back, to the bemusement of some on his own benches.

Still, he waded in with both fists when he moved onto crime and punishment.

This is good old fashioned Tory territory which has been well and truly burgled by New Labour with it's "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" mantra.

If the opposition is to make headway in this area it needs to be banging away at it from now until election day.

So the two leaders traded statistics - pretty grim statistics as far as violence is concerned - and both probably inflicted bruises if not open wounds.

Briefly stunned

Mr Howard was actually back on form and this is going to be a regular refrain from here on in.

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy sneaked in a challenge on ID cards
But then Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy approached like a thief in the night and mugged the prime minister.

He is onto another of the Lib Dem's liberal issues here that may well be striking a chord with voters - ID cards.

Mr Kennedy attacked the varying estimates of what they would cost but, perhaps more effectively, ridiculed the government's ability to run a high-tech, computerised IT scheme that would not - like others before it - collapse into chaos.

The prime minister was briefly stunned before attempting to justify the cost of the cards and repeat his claim of why they are necessary.

Mr Kennedy will undoubtedly return to this one.




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