I suppose you think this is funny, PM tells Duncan Smith

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Indy Politics

One of many appointments in Tony Blair's crowded diary yesterday was a meeting with the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, and others, who had compiled a report on anti-Semitism in Britain.

Mr Duncan Smith was driven from office three years ago when his own party turned on him.

"I suppose you're laughing about this?" the Prime Minister remarked, in a reference to his own predicament. But Mr Duncan Smith replied: "There are some things I don't laugh about."

Mr Blair has not had many reasons to split his sides this week. In his own understated words: "The last week hasn't been our finest hour, to be frank."

At 12.52pm, Mr Blair left Downing Street with the Education Secretary, Alan Johnson - not to see the Queen and hand in his resignation - but on a visit to Seven Mills School in Tower Hamlets. The visit was to publicise the Government's new emphasis on the importance of phonics, the system under which children are taught to read by learning the sounds associated with letters. Mr Blair and Mr Johnson listened to three and four-year-olds chanting "cat, caterpillar, candle, cake, cow, carrot". While the Prime Minister's private thoughts may have concerned cowardly conspirators causing chaos, he gamely joined in, never losing his boyish grin.

After half an hour, the Prime Minister's Daimler moved on to the Quintin Kynaston specialist school, in St John's Wood, accompanied by the ominous wail of police sirens. Anti-war groups had got wind of the Prime Minister's destination, and had drummed up a demonstration outside the school at 1.30pm.

Meanwhile, 400 miles to the north, Mr Blair's probable successor, Gordon Brown, and the Sports minister Dick Caborn, drew into a sports ground in Glasgow to mark the opening of the UK Schools Games. Just before 2pm, Mr Brown announced that it was up to Mr Blair to decide the timing of his departure, and whatever decision he made would have his full support.

At 2.16pm, Mr Blair arrived at Quintin Kynaston. As he moved through the classrooms, he made one reference to the week's events. "I have brought Alan [Johnson] with me. You have got to have a friend. At least I've got one. People have been saying who's that with Alan Johnson?" Cue nervous laughter.

At 3pm, the Prime Minister emerged and made his expected promise that he will leave office before the political conferences in September 2007.

He had barely finished speaking before the former defence minister Doug Henderson, an unofficial spokesman for the Brown faction, had gone on the record to complain that the statement had not said anything they did not already know.

The Blair cavalcade was back in Downing Street at 3.14pm, and Mr Blair returned to the house that he has occupied for nine years. Whether he will make it 10 is another matter.

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