Your starter for ten with Tony

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair will this week take Question Time to the public in the first of a series of monthly question and answer sessions held outside London.

The Prime Minister, who last month announced he will only take questions in the Commons once a week, rather than twice, will compensate by submitting himself to questioning from ordinary people.

The first of the so-called "Talk to Tony" sessions will be on Friday during a regional tour of the West Midlands and will last about 90 minutes. The event, loosely modelled on American-style "town meetings", will be similar to sessions held by Mr Blair during the election campaign.

Mr Blair will also make a point of holding a question and answer session in Scotland and Wales before the autumn referenda on devolution.

Downing Street was last week unable to say, for security reasons, precisely how the audience will be selected, but insisted that it will be made up of ordinary members of the public rather than party members.

Mr Blair is said to view the initiative as a vital way of keeping touch with the public rather than getting stuck in the "Westminster bunker". The Prime Minister claims that the most difficult questions he was asked during the general election came from the public, rather than politicians or journalists.

However the move underlines the extent to which Labour is determined to maintain campaigning momentum, even during years of government.

The Prime Minister has specialised in question and answer sessions up to and during his leadership of the Labour Party. He used the forum both in his own leadership campaign and his nation-wide tour to reform the party's constitution by re-writing Clause 4.

The new question and answer sessions will usually be "themed" with the audience invited to ask about a specific policy area. The first session will focus on crime, but there will be opportunities to ask questions on other topical matters.

Mr Blair's aides say that the decision to move Question Time in the Commons from its twice- weekly 15-minute slots to half an hour on Wednesdays, has given him the time to undertake the initiative on Fridays.

The Prime Minister said: "We have been elected as new Labour with a set of specific promises to fill. It is our contract with the British people. Like any contract it is dependent on the satisfaction of both sides. That is why I want the public to have the chance at regular intervals to make sure that we are living up to those promises."