Donald Macintyre's Sketch: A bit late but it’s a victory for Ed Miliband

Maybe Ed should do a Farage and unresign

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This was seriously cool. A bit like Niki Lauda driving in the 1976 Italian Grand Prix six weeks after his Ferrari caught fire in a near-fatal crash at the Nürburgring, Ed Miliband has returned to the circuit. And in style.

Far from shrinking away and nursing his wounds, he was back with his first speech as a backbencher for nine years; witty, graceful and in the words of Tory ex Chancellor Ken Clarke who followed him, “forceful and good”.

A speech on the scourge of inequality that was, well, disconcertingly worthy of a Labour leader.

Earlier George Osborne had paused from swinging his newly sharpened axe on the budgets for everything from schools to vital council services to give Miliband a warm welcome. “He  earns everyone’s respect by coming to the House so soon after the election defeat,” he said. “I do not think that anyone ever doubted his personal integrity.”

This was gallant if not strictly accurate. Unless of course David Cameron and Michael Fallon were only kidding when during the election they respectively called him an “arsonist” and someone who was prepared to “stab the United Kingdom in the back” as he had done to his brother.

Or maybe they meant to say: “He’s a fratricidal, fire-raising, traitor but he’s got a lot of personal integrity.” But hey, that was then.

Meanwhile Miliband, promising to hold David Cameron to his “one nation” mantra, managed to quote both Disraeli and the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) without sounding geeky. Dizzy had written in his novel Sybil of the class divide: “Two nations ... who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were... inhabitants of different planets.” This sounded, he said, “in old-fashioned language” (not all that old-fashioned, actually) like “what afflicts us today – the difference between the top one percent... and everyone else”.

Miliband seemed to be telling the Government and his own would-be successors that though blown of course by distractions like the dreaded threat of an SNP-backed minority government, Labour had still had the right argument.

And £12bn cuts in welfare, including on tax credits, making life for the working poor even worse, did not square with it. What’s more, the OECD man had pointed to “compelling evidence that high inequality harms economic growth”. 

And he sounded as if he meant it. Which he does. He had a nice gag about his six-year-old saying that he “used to be famous”.

And on former Cameron adviser Steve Hilton saying that top salaries should be capped, he quipped:  “I see that proposal as anti-aspiration and anti-business, and I have no truck with it.” This was pretty good. Maybe Ed should do a Farage and unresign.