Bullish Blair refuses to be cowed

Tony Blair was showing no sign of the pressure of the police probe today when he gave a bullish performance in his second parliamentary grilling this week.

In a particularly boisterous session of prime minister’s questions, Mr Blair gave as good as he got from David Cameron, displaying the same relaxed approach as when he faced senior MPs on the Commons liaison committee yesterday.

The Conservative leader noted that Mr Blair had been having a “pretty interesting couple of weeks”, in reference to his second interview by police investigating the cash-for-honours allegations and the second arrest of close aide Lord Levy.

He asked where Gordon Brown had been, and questioned why the chancellor always seemed to “disappear” at times of crisis, citing not only the current police probe, but the rebellion over trust schools and the vote on the war on Iraq.

“During this time has he noticed the vocal support of his chancellor?” Mr Cameron asked.

Mr Blair responded by stressing everything his government was doing, giving the appearance – as he did during the committee hearing yesterday – that he was simply a man getting on with the job.

“Whilst we are getting on with the pensions proposals for the future of the country, whilst we are producing the energy proposal that guarantees energy security and climate change issues, whilst we are managing a huge investment in our schools as a result of the strong economy the chancellor has produced, whilst we’re investing in the NHS – we’ve been doing all that what exactly has he been doing?” he said.

The Tory leader stole the prime minister’s thunder somewhat with the succinct reply that “I think we can take that as a no”, but this only prompted another attack from Mr Blair -who was clearly enjoying himself by now.

He noted that Mr Cameron had for the past few weeks been calling for “more spending on prisons, more spending on housing, more spending on schools, more spending on rehabilitation places, more spending on intelligence services, and on school leavers, he’s also saying he’s going to cut tax at the same time”.

By contrast, Mr Blair said, “this chancellor has produced the strongest economy, the lowest interest rates, the lowest unemployment, the highest employment in this country”.

He argued: “That is by taking a sensible view of investment and putting investment before tax cuts. That’s his position, that’s my position, what’s his?”

Mr Cameron hit back: “If the chancellor’s doing such a great job, bring him on. What are we waiting for? Isn’t the truth in British politics that the prime minister’s too isolated to govern and the chancellor’s too indecisive to get rid of him?”

The prime minister refused to take that one lying down, however, saying: “The truth is that while we’ve been producing the lowest waiting lists in the NHS, the best school results in the history of our school system, the strongest economy this country has ever seen, whilst we’ve been facing up to the difficult decisions, he’s been ducking them.

“That’s the difference between a party that has leadership and a party that has none.”