Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Ed Miliband digs deep for miners - will he be the new Hague?

He seems remarkably at ease as just the plain backbench MP for Doncaster North

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You have to hand it to Ed Miliband. Less than two months after suffering a defeat which would have left a lesser man reeling, not to mention hiding away from his parliamentary colleagues, he was on his feet in a sparsely filled Commons chamber fighting for 400 constituents who have just lost their jobs.

Adjournment debates – half an hour at the end of the day when most people have gone home – are the least glamorous of parliamentary gigs. Yet the man who expected by now to be on day 55 of his premiership seemed remarkably at ease as just the plain backbench MP for Doncaster North.

At ease personally, but not about the miners of Hatfield Colliery, averaging 50 years of age, who arrived for their shifts on Monday night “to be told on the spot to turn round and go home because they had worked their last shift”. Yes he supported a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy, but that meant “fairness to workers” in affected industries. The closure of Hatfield, which was not expected until next summer, was not “just, fair or right”.

Nor was he just going through the motions. Flanked by his former Parliamentary Private Secretary and fellow Yorkshire MP, Kevin Barron, he intervened four times during the business minister Anna Soubry’s response. At times the debate – though not the exchanges with a relentlessly polite Miliband himself – became heated, with Ms Soubry accusing Labour’s Angela Rayner of “muttering… sexist comments”. 

Miliband thanked the Government for the £20m which should have prolonged Hatfield’s life, but argued that with additional state funds there were new orders that could have sustained the colliery. That extra state money would have been more than paid for in income tax and VAT receipts.

“Historically, we’ve asked the miners throughout our country to put themselves at some risk in dangerous conditions to help the rest of us power our country,” he said. “We therefore owe them a special duty of care.”

If the Government could not keep the pit open it should at least consider increasing redundancy payments beyond the statutory minimum as they looked for new jobs. But as a one-time Energy Secretary, he widened the argument – pointing out that while billions of taxpayers’ money were being used to finance nuclear power, clean coal technology would be converting Russian and Colombian imports instead of British coal.

The former Labour leader, to his credit, is not going anywhere. And after all, the Cameron Cabinet contains a defeated Tory leader – and the last one contained two. Is Ed Miliband the William Hague of a future Labour government?