The Sketch: Ed Miliband looks like a leader, then the face gives him away

At one point of confusion, Miliband asked for a moment to 're-figure my memory on this'
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In front of Lord Justice Leveson, an ex-prime minister and – in this age of catastrophic miracles – a future one. John Major and Ed Miliband.

The old Tory gave us his thoroughly decent impression of Clark Kent, Superman's secret identity. The lies that had been told about him, the breaking and entering of his holiday villa, the chasing and stalking of his son by a photographer, the vilification of Back to Basics (now cross-party policy) – all were recounted with well-mannered anger. He's a different generation, of course, and not even the last generation, the one before that.

Some of us were fearing a disabling revelation at the start of the new generation's performance. "Your full name Mr Miliband?" "Edward Apopakepakettle Miliband."

He may be 10 points ahead in the polls, but the Labour leader is still at the point where a funny name would finish him. He seemed to be making progress in recent months, but from his screen performance yesterday he was back at square one.

He speaks, and no ordinary mortal could fail to be magnetised by the sight. The eyes like a pair of Ray-Bans. The mouth like a Mobius strip. The teeth that suddenly leap out at you when he laughs (did Counsel Jay step back suddenly?).

If he delivered his matter with certainty and clarity you might overlook his manner. But his face seems to be reflecting exactly what's going on in his mind.

Was Labour too close to News International? This is the sort of thing that happens: "In a sense [searches intelligently for word] 'too close' is what I mean by too close. Why do I say that? Look. [Struggles to express essential truth.] Why am I saying that? What I say is three things. What was the question again?"

At one point of confusion he asked for a moment to "re-figure my memory on this".

There was only one moment when he answered strongly, affirmatively, straight from the soul. When asked if he had been aware of Ed Balls briefing against Tony Blair, he said: "No." Seriously. He said it. "Ed Balls? No." Just like that.

His face had settled into a firm but fair representation of an authoritative leader. When telling a flat lie he looks like he's telling the straight truth. But trying to pitch all those things in between – his face looks like a controlled explosion.

John Major said that the media could create an image for a politician that was difficult to dislodge. It's true, up to a point. But Ed's image is beyond manufacture.