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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006, 15:01 GMT
Prime minister's questions
Sketch
By Nick Assinder
BBC News political correspondent

This is one way for the Liberal Democrats to get more than their share of air time - depose their leader.

Sir Menzies Campbell in the House of Commons
Was this Ming's David Davis moment?
At the last prime minister's question time just before Christmas, with precious little seasonal cheer in the air all eyes were fixed on the gaping wounds inflicted on Charles Kennedy by his own side.

It was like being a rubber-necker at the scene of a car crash.

A month later he is being branded the Julius Caesar of British politics - stabbed in the back by men in sandals - so for the second question time running, all attention was again focused on the Lib Dem frontbench.

And in an extraordinary coincidence, two of the potential future leaders were up to ask questions.

Declared candidate Sir Menzies Campbell had a go because he is now interim leader, and yet-to-declare Simon Hughes had a chance because his name came out of the hat (that is the way MPs are selected to ask questions during the weekly sessions).

Punchbags

And there is no nice way of saying this - they both bombed, Ming even had what some immediately described as his David Davis moment - the single performance that blights leadership hopes.

I just knew it was going to be one of those days
Sir Menzies Campbell
Lib Dem acting leader

Then, after bombing, they both found themselves being used as punchbags for a light prime ministerial workout.

Sir Menzies walked into it by talking about too many schools having acting rather than permanent headmasters. Who on earth checked that one for potential gaffes?

In came bruiser Blair with a flurry of slaps about organisations having problems finding leaders, particularly if they were failing.

Sir Menzies' own comment as the cheers and roars of MPs finally died down - "I just knew it was going to be one of those days" - just about hit the nail on the head. Groans all around from the Lib Dem benches.

Other one

Simon Hughes started better, with a pointed attack on the NHS, but got into trouble when apparently suggesting he would change his own party's policy.

"Oh," declared the prime minister. "If he is going to start backing our reforms I am going to start backing him rather than the other one" - before looking round and asking where the third contender was (Mark Oaten, who was safely seated in the BBC Daily Politics studio).

It was never going to be an easy question time for the Lib Dems and one bad performance might not kill a future career - then again, just ask David Davis.

But at least, for those of us seeking cheap thrills, it was all grist to the mill.




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Watch Menzies Campbell clash with Tony Blair



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