by Ray Fleming
A question about Question Time. When backbench MPs turn their question to the Prime Minister into a mini-speech they are rebuked by the Speaker and told to stop. There is presumably a rule about this.

Is there no rule which requires the Prime Minister to answer the actual question put to him instead of talking about something else? Yesterday Michael Howard used all six of his questions to ask Mr Blair about his relationship with Gordon Brown and whether it was true that his Chancellor no longer trusted him. Mr Blair evaded all six by saying “I've dealt with that issue before” and moving on quickly to talk about the thriving economy, low interest and mortgage rates, record employment, better examination results in schools and reduced waiting lists in the NHS. It was a display of Mr Blair's barefaced cynicism at its very worse and he made it even worse by grinning all over his face as he did it. Why did the Speaker not intervene?

Mr Howard was unlucky in that his questioning would have been very much more effective if Mr Brown had, as usual, been at the Prime Minister's side in the Commons. But the Chancellor is on safari in Africa, presumably researching his version of the government's policy on the Dark Continent which may or may not match Mr Blair's own ideas on the matter.

The Government is making a sustained but ineffective effort to dismiss the Blair/Brown disunity story. In a vintage performance on BBC radio's Today programme John Prescott blamed it on “you media people”. But Mr Prescott knows that we know he is doing his knockabout turn; Mr Blair's problem is that he thinks he is getting away with his cynicism. No wonder people are losing interest in politics.

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