It was the first Prime Minister's question time of a new era. At midday in the House of Commons, David Cameron, the fresh-faced and just-anointed leader of the Tories, stood at the dispatch box to face Tony Blair, the most successful Labour politician of modern times. MPs sat back to watch a joust between youth and experience.
David Cameron: "The first issue the Prime Minister and I will have to work together on is getting the good bits of his education reforms through the House of Commons and into law."
What he meant: I am going to sound conciliatory and reasonable, while fomenting the inevitable Labour backbench rebellion.
Tony Blair: "I'm very happy to have this new consensus with you and I'm delighted today you've said the Conservative Party will vote for these education reforms."
What he meant: I am not really delighted at all. I want to get the Education Bill through the Commons with Labour support, not relying on the Tories.
David Cameron: "I want schools to control their own admissions. That's what's in the White Paper and let's see it turns into the Bill."
What he meant: I am going to do all that I can to drive a wedge between the Prime Minister and Labour backbenchers on the sensitive issue of admissions
Tony Blair: "It's obvious that we disagree on the issue of admissions. I think if schools are free to bring back selection at the age of 11 that would be regressive for our country. So I'm afraid in this grand new consensus we have to disagree on that point."
What he meant: Phew! Thank goodness I've found something to disagree with him on. Hopefully this will reassure some of the Labour doubters.
David Cameron: "This approach is stuck in the past and I want to talk about the future. You were the future once."
What he meant: I am going to be the "heir to Blair" without saying so.
Tony Blair: "You are saying this year you wouldn't have put all the investment in [that Labour have], but rather have shared that investment, half and half between tax cuts and investment. That would mean substantial cuts in public investment."
What he meant: Mr Cameron's policy of "sharing the proceeds of growth" between tax cuts and spending on public services will prove a vote-loser and Labour will portray it as the same old policy of "Tory cuts".
David Cameron: "It's only our first exchange and already you are asking me the questions."
What he meant: I intend to give you a much harder time than the four previous Conservative leaders you have faced across the dispatch box - John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard
Tony Blair: "I'm happy if this is another policy you are about to change."
What he meant: There might be some mileage in reminding the voters that the Tories have got it wrong for a long time, so we can suggest their judgement is still suspectReuse content