Leaders despatched with pig bladders: Colin Brown sees the style of Prime Minister's questions soon revert to type

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Indy Politics
IT TOOK just five minutes for Tony Blair and John Major to tire of the New gentlemanly Politics and resort to pig bladders on sticks at six paces, writes Colin Brown.

The attempt to elevate Prime Minister's Questions to politics for grown-ups began in a dignified manner. While the House was packed, there was not a 'yah boo' to be heard when the combatants entered the chamber.

Mr Blair, with John Prescott acting as his second, sat with hands folded on his lap, calmly watching the opening shots like a deer caught in the headlamps. Perhaps his spin doctors had persuaded Mr Blair to use the secret weapon, undoing John Major by not asking the Prime Minister a question?

It was a bold idea, but at 3.17 Mr Blair rose to ask his first question as Leader of the Opposition. This was the moment we had waited for since the Labour leadership result on 21 July.

Two serious blue suits faced each other across the despatch box. This was New Labour. The Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister looked inter- changeable, and for a few moments they sounded it too.

Mr Blair praised the Prime Minister's peace initiative in Northern Ireland.

Mr Major congratulated Mr Blair on his new position: 'It carries with it very great responsibilities.'

Without a hint of irony, Mr Major added: 'I wish him well in these responsibilities for so long as he holds them.' In the old days, Baroness Thatcher would have told Neil Kinnock she expected him to remain permanently in Opposition.

Mr Blair hit on one good reason why they may be changing places: the Government remains divided over Europe. The Chancellor and Michael Portillo were at odds and Mr Major was 'hovering between the two'.

Pigs' bladders were drawn and bouncing. The Speaker called for order. Mr Blair bashed Mr Major with his accusation that divided government was weak government; Mr Major hit back with an uppercut about Mr Blair selling out to Europe. It was just like the old days when Mr Major called John Smith 'Monsieur Oui, the Poodle of Brussels.'

Satisfied with a draw, MPs trooped back to the tea rooms. Mr Blair's spin doctors said their boy had opened up a wound on a 'sustainable issue'. One Tory MP said: 'I'd give Blair 6 out of 10 for content, and 3 out of 10 for entertainment . . . And if you are looking for enlightment, don't come to Question Time.'