How leaders fared at first Prime Minister's questions


As Ed Miliband faces his first Prime Minister's questions, here's a look at his predecessors' debuts.


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Domestic terrorism was in the spotlight at Gordon Brown's first PMQs

Gordon Brown had waited many years to take his bow at prime minister's questions.

Tony Blair had remarked on his successor's "clunking fist" and pundits wondered whether he would be able to land a knockout blow on David Cameron, who had impressed in his two years as opposition leader.

But some were already worried whether Mr Brown was quick enough on his feet to glide through the weekly Commons clash.

The encounter, taking place days after attempted suicide bombings in London and Glasgow, was dominated by security issues.

Mr Brown sought to strike a consensual note by saying all parties should "show unity in the face of terror" but the two leaders clashed over the need for identity cards and the banning of extremist groups.

The prime minister announced a number of security-related initiatives but was jeered by the opposition when, in response to one question, he said he had "only been in the job for five days".

Verdict: Tory MPs were jubilant after the session while Labour MPs, although less upbeat, said the match was a draw. Gordon Brown never did land that clunking blow during their three years of clashes before he resigned after losing the 2010 General Election.

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Opposition leader David Cameron focused on education in his PMQs debut

David Cameron became the fifth Tory leader to take on Tony Blair at PMQs.

He began the exchanges with a question on schools, offering to support the "best bits" of Tony Blair's academies legislation, which he knew many Labour MPs were opposed to.

As Labour MPs tried to shout him down, he chided the party's chief whip Hilary Armstrong for "shouting like a child".

But what the session was really remembered for was his taunting of Mr Blair. To huge cheers from the Conservative benches, he gestured towards the prime minister and said: "He was the future once."

Verdict: Conservative-supporting papers loved his performance, saying he had wrong-footed Mr Blair but other papers were less sure, saying it was knockabout stuff and his inexperience might catch him out. Mr Cameron, who became PM after 2010 election, was said by commentators to have generally held his own against Blair and to have regularly outperformed Gordon Brown.

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Opposition leader Michael Howard went on the attack in his first PMQs

The new Tory leader was always regarded as a tough debater but how would he fare in the bearpit of PMQs?

Taking on Tony Blair, he accused the prime minister of running an incompetent and wasteful government and derided the PM's answers, saying at one point: "Two questions asked, neither answered: not a very good start I'm afraid."

Although the atmosphere was electric, the clash was largely nostalgic in flavour.

Mr Blair attacked Mr Howard's own record in government and his support for the poll tax but Mr Howard responded by saying he had a dossier on Mr Blair's policy inconsistencies which he did not need to "sex up" - a reference to the continuing row over the UK government's case for war in Iraq.

Verdict: This first performance was well received by Tory MPs, and by commentators, long frustrated over Iain Duncan Smith's efforts. Although Mr Howard continued to land some blows on Mr Blair - famously telling him "this grammar school boy will not take any lessons from that public school boy" - it did not help him get into power and he quit after the 2005 election.

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At his first PMQs Iain Duncan Smith pressed Tony Blair about the war in Afghanistan

After his surprise victory in the Tory leadership contest, Iain Duncan Smith's debut outing was eagerly awaited, although it took place in a sombre atmosphere, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

He opted to spread his six questions into two segments. The first three concerned the situation in Afghanistan, where he backed the UK-supported military action against the Taliban and urged Tony Blair to "see it through".

The second exchange, in which he attacked Labour's proposed NHS reforms, was far more heated.

Raising the case of a constituent who had died after spending nine hours on a hospital trolley, the Tory leader said all Labour's "promises of a better tomorrow" would sound "hollow" to their family and many others.

Mr Blair said such failings were "unacceptable" but hit out at the Tories for not supporting their investment in the NHS.

Verdict: This was seen as a low-key debut and things did not get much better for the Tory leader with commentators calling his performances wooden, and focusing on his tendency to develop a frog in his throat at key moments. He sought to flip the criticism, warning people not to underestimate the determination "of the quiet man" but he was toppled two years later, with his PM's questions performances said to be partly to blame.

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William Hague entertained the Commons when he made his debut against Tony Blair

A youthful William Hague faced an exceedingly tough task, taking on the leadership of a party which had just been battered at the polls and lost many of its big names.

At his first PMQs - now being held once a week - he seized on reports that a Labour MP had been threatened with expulsion from the party for campaigning against proposals for a Welsh Assembly.

He said this showed the "arrogant behaviour" of a government which could not tolerate "honest and open" debate.

New prime minister Tony Blair said the claims had been proved to be untrue and urged Mr Hague to withdraw them.

Verdict: Mr Hague's confident performance set the tone for his period as leader in which he regularly shone in Parliament. His humour and ability to think on his feet regularly boosted the morale of Conservative MPs. However, it was ultimately to no avail as the Conservatives were trounced at the 2001 election and he stepped down.

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Tony Blair used his first PMQs to grill John Major about the single currency

Tony Blair has spoken of the excruciating nerves he felt as prime minister ahead of the weekly session but when he was leader of the opposition, he often made it look like plain sailing.

Facing John Major for the first time, he attacked what he said were serious divisions at the top of the government over Europe, particularly over the single currency and whether a referendum would be needed before joining the euro.

A "divided government was a weak government", he told MPs.

Mr Major responded by saying that Labour would "slavishly follow" everything coming out of Brussels if it came to power.

Verdict: This set the tone for Tony Blair's confrontations with John Major in the final years of the Tory government. He regularly emerged on top, memorably accusing the prime minister on one occasion of being "weak, weak, weak". When he became PM in 1997 he changed the twice weekly 15 minute sessions into the single half hour clash it currently is. Mr Blair got a standing ovation from MPs when he finished his last PMQs in 2007.

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John Smith raised the issue of pit closures on his debut appearance in 1992

John Smith faced his first PMQs soon after becoming opposition leader and in the wake of Labour's demoralising election defeat.

He called on the government to have an independent review before any further pit closures, suggesting Prime Minister John Major and Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine were at odds over the issue.

Ministers had nothing to "be afraid of" in doing so and if they declined to act, he called for the future of pits to be referred to a cross-party select committee.

In response, Mr Major said there would be a consultation on the future of "uneconomic" mines which had been earmarked for closure and said Labour's outrage was "bogus" as many mines had closed while it was in office.

Verdict: John Smith was well respected on all sides of the House of Commons for his intelligence and skills as an orator. His death in 1994 robbed Parliament of one of its best performers. His successor Tony Blair went on to win a landslide victory at the 1997 election.

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John Major came under scrutiny about the poll tax at his PMQs debut

John Major faced PM's questions on his second day as prime minister, having never done it before.

The session began in humorous fashion when, as Mr Major rose to answer his first question, Labour MP Dennis Skinner shouted "resign". Mr Kinnock then offered the new prime minister his "personal congratulations" on his election as leader.

The future of the poll tax dominated exchanges. Mr Kinnock said it would save a lot of "time and money" to just abolish it.

Mr Major steered a middle course, saying a thorough review of the controversial tax was the right action to take. But he also claimed that Labour's support for local rates would be more regressive.

Verdict: John Major's understated style was a striking contrast to both his predecessor and his opponent Neil Kinnock. Many Conservative MPs appreciated the more measured approach and this certainly helped him at the 1992 election. But it failed to halt the slide in his fortunes as he headed to defeat and resignation in 1997.