Simon Carr: Labour's new general fails to impress the troops in first big battle

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The Independent Online

Maybe he's playing himself in; working up to it – there may be many reasons for it, but the Leader of the Opposition failed to collect the voice of his party yesterday. Looking over their doubtful faces as he spoke, you could see them wince, flinch or cringe. Bob Ainsworth – perfectly decent fellow – held a hand over the lower part of his face, hiding. Sandra Osborne looked down at her leader like a Coronation Street granny in front of an ICA installation. Keith Vaz was chatting under the clock. Rows and rows of faces thinking one collective thought: "Oo-er."

Harriet squinted in a way no one had seen before, trying not to see what was in front of her. Alan Johnson looked on: "I better do better than that," he was thinking. "Maybe I should have gone for it after all." An unseeing Yvette Cooper sat like a stunned mullet. Her husband struck his Mt Rushmore pose: politely attentive, but with a lightly furrowed brow indicating incredulous concern (he was first out of his place to leave the chamber).

Ed had no clap traps, no narrative, no point that got through. He seemed a little shocked by the (fatuous) cries of "Apologise!" and "Say sorry!" when he stood up and he never hit his stride. When he mentioned "aircraft carriers without aircraft" he was visibly rattled by Tory shouts of "Stupid! Stupid!" His big line? "It's a spending review dressed up as a defence review". They won't be humming that in the streets of Islington, will they? He sat down, conscious that it hadn't gone well. Heaven knows, that's a rotten feeling – to fizzle. A packed Commons is the worst place in Britain to fizzle.

When Cameron described James Arbuthnot's question as the "crucial" one you wondered why Ed hadn't asked it himself (it was – if we can do without fast jets for a decade, why do we have them at all?).

It's early yet, of course. There are years to go and war is difficult for Labour. He couldn't exactly say: "With cuts like this we'll never be able to invade Iraq! And if Argentina invades the Falklands we can't even drop a nuke on them. It's political correctness gone mad!"

Cameron was in full floreat Etona mode. Labour haven't been able to train fire on this fast-moving Coalition. They can't cope with the charm. The scale of the changes are bewildering. And the alliances have changed the terrain out of recognition. They saw Edward Leigh get behind the idea of letting the French use our aircraft carriers. What are they to make of this baffling new world? It's too early to tell, obviously.

PS: Ed's fidget is back. Fingers gouging things out of his eyes, lip picking, head scratching, cheek stroking. An old school rule the new generation should follow: a lady never touches her face in public. Nor should a leader.