Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 14:23 UK

Brown seeks to keep sharks at bay

Prime minister's questions sketch
By Ben Wright
Political correspondent

Gordon Brown
If he was feeling gloomy, the PM didn't show it as he left Downing Street

Gordon Brown suffers from "neurotic under-confidence" apparently.

That is not David Cameron's latest caricature but the view of the prime minister's normally mild-mannered pals at the Fabian Society, who said the government risks being written off before its first anniversary.

Not the sort of pre-match pep talk the PM would have appreciated.

So he might have trudged off to the Commons for his weekly duel with the Conservative leader with a particularly gloomy gait.

But he did not show it. The easiest lobbed question from one of his own backbenchers enabled Mr Brown to rattle off a long list of statistics on how, even though everyone feels skint, the economy is actually doing well.

David Cameron mocked, saying the planted questions were getting tougher and tougher.

Scenting blood

For the casual observer there were only a few clues that Thursday is election day.

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg echoed Neil Kinnock's famous anti-Militant 1980s conference speech by describing the scene of a labour government scuttling around the country handing out closure notices to post offices.

After last week's tyre-screeching U-turn on 10p-tax, the Conservatives scent blood in the Westminster water.

Roy Scheider in the film Jaws
Did Gordon Brown learn about dealing with circling sharks from Jaws?

The sharp-suited sharks on the Tory benches believe the government is now dangerously wounded and that one more bite might finish if off.

Which is why David Cameron decided to fire off all his questions on the government's plans to increase the amount of time terror suspects can be held without charge to 42 days.

Rather than go for crowd-pleasing electioneering, David Cameron circled the prime minister, quoting a long list of people who think the plan is mad and demanding to know if the vote on the issue will become one of confidence in the government.

A leaked letter from the Labour whips office was produced fingering an (unnamed) Labour from Ealing for believing the plan was "barmy".

Harman scribbling

To the background sound of jeering Tory MPs, Gordon Brown said the Conservatives should be ashamed of themselves and said that not backing the plan was a big mistake.

The prime minister's gamble is that this is something worrying a few of his own MPs but not middle England.

Harriet Harman (recently a surprise hit during a cameo performance here a few weeks ago) sat next to the prime minister scribbling away on a note-pad, a pair of glasses perched on the end of her nose. A letter to the three MPs from Ealing perhaps?

But with water beginning to seep into the boat, Gordon Brown discovered his mettle.

To cheers from his own side he angrily accused David Cameron of being nothing more than a "shallow salesman".

It wasn't quite Roy Scheider in the final scenes of Jaws, but it was a confident punch on the nose, which is apparently quite a good way of seeing off sharks.




PRIME MINISTER'S QUESTIONS

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