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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 July 2007, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Attack of the Brownies
Prime minister's questions sketch
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Labour's image manipulators probably wanted it to look like Gordon's Angels.

Harriet Harman, Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith
Gordon Brown was flanked by women in white
Sit three identically dressed women-in-white in a "doughnut" around the prime minister to add a touch of glamour and shine a bit of sunlight through the dark clouds that usually hover around the prime minister's head.

It sort of worked. On either side of once-gloomy Gordon sat Commons leader Harriet Harman and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, while immediately behind him was Angela Smith.

And they were all dressed in near identical white jackets, black blouses and necklaces.

So why was it the first thought that popped into many minds, rather than Gordon's Angels, was Attack of the Cabinet Clones?

Simply because these things do not happen by accident - at least, they would never have been allowed to happen accidentally under the old regime.

Extra glow

This was not a case of three women looking daggers at each other because they had committed the most awful of social faux pas.

So the immediate, and probably accurate assumption, was that this was the result of the latest assault by the image makers, one of the group of "extras" who hung around the edges of New Labour and who, we had been led to believe, would be getting their P45s.

Thank heavens for reliable Jack Straw who sat a couple of seats down the frontbench and managed, with his more sober attire and attitude, to turn the brightness down from 11.

David Cameron
Mr Cameron has had a wobbly few days
The stunt worked, in part, because it seemed to add a little extra glow to the delight clearly being felt by Mr Brown and his MPs at Tory leader David Cameron's recent woes.

The Tory leader had just come third in a couple of by-elections, been attacked for his direction by a major backer and been criticised for leaving the country instead of staying at home to look after his flooded-out constituents.

Cattle prod

They weren't going to let that lie and both Mr Brown and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell got their jabs in by referring to the fact they had seen the work of the emergency services first-hand.

And Mr Brown, on better form than of late, was displaying just a touch of the bounce everyone says he is currently enjoying.

When Mr Cameron took the slightly odd decision of raising the issue of whether the new EU treaty is really a constitution, Mr Brown delivered his pre-prepared slap down.

"I see we are back to the old agenda," he said to well-orchestrated cheers from his own MPs, who sounded like they might have been subjected to the whips equivalent of the cattle prod.

In fact, he liked this so much he said it twice.

"He is back to the old agenda, it did not take long after Ealing Southall [one of those by-election setbacks]," he declared.

Referring to the other little difficulties Mr Cameron has suffered, he added the soundbite: "The wheels are going off the Tory bicycle." (He probably meant coming off, but he is still learning how to do this sort of stuff.)

"It is just as well he has a car following him when he goes out," he added.

It was hard for Mr Cameron to completely disguise his discomfort.

This was the last clash before MPs go off on their summer holidays, and he had just lost it.


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