Going on the attack without a leg to stand on

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The Independent Online
Now we all know what Tony Blair did when he went to Germany this week, because John Major told us in Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday. "The right honourable gentleman curries favour with his hosts", declared the PM, "by rolling over on his back with his legs in the air!"

Had this been said without the benefit of parliamentary privilege, the Labour leader might well have been spending the afternoon instructing his solicitors. He will recall how his late colleague, Allan Roberts, was once discovered in a dog kennel in a Berlin nightclub being whipped by a muscular Teuton. Mr Blair, the profiles all suggest, is a man of a different bent, so what was the Prime Minister suggesting?

Actually, he was responding to a question from leading Europhobe, Iain Duncan-Smith, about Mr Blair's presence at a conference of industrialists on the banks of the Rhine. Mr Duncan-Smith wished to suggest that Tony had been talking all capitalistic to the burghers of Bonn, whilst rubbishing all Britain's free-market achievements at home. But the dapper member for Chingford felt obliged to couch his query in terms of the Prime Minister's use of his leisure time.

On Tuesday Mr Major angrily denied the calumnious suggestion that he might have been watching Panorama. Yesterday he was invited to "remember the old cowboy movies he must have watched in his youth in which they used to say `Paleface speak with forked tongue!' "

Mr Major smiled in recognition. Perhaps, last Monday evening, with a typical BBC expose of failures over BSE occupying a whole channel, the PM had indeed slipped a cassette of Rio Bravo into the No 10 video.

And who could blame him? He must be so fed up with the BSE debacle. Ridiculed yesterday by both Mr Blair and Paddy Ashdown over his imminent declaration of Victory over Europe at the Florence summit this weekend, Mr Major had been reduced to describing his rivals as "idiotic", as possessing a "breathtaking capacity to understand nothing" and being "wrong in every aspect". But behind him there was an ominous lack of enthusiasm. Teresa Gorman was not wearing her medals and the bunting was not being put out for VBSE Day.

That meant making do with Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley), who as the first Tory to put a question got to stand in metaphorical Creep's Corner, asking the usual stuff about contrasting the Government's exceptional success with what would happen were the electorate stupid enough to place their trust in "the party opposite".

Mr Evans has a thin, slightly rodentine face, a long body and a keen nose for the main chance. He also seems rather ill-at-ease in his clothes, which hang off him when (as happens all too often) he rises to speak. In short, he looks like a ferret in a suit. The particular rabbit-hole that the whips had sent him down was the European one. His task was to deliver the line that while the Tories fought for Britain's interest in Europe, Mr Blair fights for "Europe's interests in Britain!" He delivered it, twitched his whiskers and sat down.

So there we are. Now we know how very differently the two leaders behave when abroad. Or do we? When another Tory wished him good luck in Italy tomorrow, the Prime Minister declared boldly that "weekends in Florence are always most enjoyable!" "Whoooaaah!" roared the Opposition benches. "Yes," said Mr Major hurriedly - lest he be misunderstood, "it is a lovely place". So no lying on his back with legs in the air for him. Oh no. Just sightseeing and the winning of incredible victories over the continental foe. Pity.

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