Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Troops Rally to Dear Leader

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Troops Rally to Dear Leader

Article excerpt

Byline: MATTHEW NORMAN

PERHAPS it was because it came the day after questions to John "how ya diddlin?" Prescott, the best warm-up man in the business - but there was a strong air of music hall about Prime Minister's Questions today. Loads of panto oohing and aahing, much jolly pointing between rival backbenchers, even a bit of "I say, I say, I say" knockabout between Tony Blair and Dennis Skinner ... what a difference in tone from a fortnight ago.

Then, although he screwed up his questions on tuition fees, Michael Howard bubbled with anticipation about the perils to come for Mr Blair. Today, those perils survived, Mr Howard performed much better but to absolutely no effect.

His first three questions concerned the Government's failure to impose controls on those who may come here from the 10 countries joining the EU on 1 May. Mr Blair had no sensible answer, and seemed to be making up policy on the hoof when he hinted at cutting their benefits. No one cared.

In his second trio, Mr Howard lampooned the Blair habit of, well, making up policy on the hoof. Mr Blair was caught unawares that one such masterstroke - antisocial tenants losing benefits - had been quietly dropped on the day of the top-up fees vote. It should have been a mild humiliation for him.

But no one cared. Half of Mr Howard's problem was that by foolishly getting sucked into Lord Butler's Iraq Intelligence Whitewash Committee, he couldn't ridicule that process - a task neatly carried out instead by a canny Charles Kennedy. The other half is that Mr Blair's confidence is back now his own MPs know he's here to stay.

Gordon Brown didn't turn up to whisper little shards of advice into the PM's ear, but a glance at the ministers who did underlined the mood swing.

Where a fortnight ago their knees were crossed away from the PM, now they can't snuggle up closely enough. …

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