The Sketch: Has David Miliband really got what it takes to be a leader?

Nice, decent, liberal, progressive, modern-minded David Miliband was trying to winkle something nasty out of William Hague's recent tabloid embarrassments. He came up with "we have an absent Foreign Secretary, not an active Foreign Secretary". The House went a little still and waited for the punchline, the wallop, the pay-off, the zinger. We're still waiting; that was it.

David himself is a better example of being more "absent than active"; he is preoccupied with matters other than the plight of the Palestinians. He has spent every waking moment of the summer trying to get elected leader of the Labour Party.

You look at him down there and wonder whether he has it in him to win the necessary votes, lead the Labour Party, take on David Cameron... be Prime Minister. They're all very different qualities needed. Managing the party is a full-time job in itself.

Speaking of which, did you notice that Labour passed a little motion last week to make the Chief Whip an elected office? That's a zinger, that carries a real wallop. It's not like schools electing their own prefects, it's not monkeys voting for the zoo management – it's much more purposeful.

The credit for carrying the vote goes to the Chief Whip; it was his achievement. Nick Brown assumes that David will win and knows his own career at the top ends as David's begins. D Mil would never appoint Blair-hating Nick to any position – let alone to that Vatican City of the Whips' office. It's a state within a state. It can be a parallel power structure. The Chief Whip can make extraordinary things happen.

And there was the best example: Nick Brown got a majority of his colleagues to vote his way in a secret ballot. How did he do that? Well, it's what Chief Whips do. They make intelligent individualists do what they're damn well told. He whipped his colleagues till the blood freely flowed and true to form, they did his bidding.

How is nice young David Miliband going to cope with that? David didn't even start to play. He didn't get on the pitch. He must have known the game was being played. But whether he did or didn't, his enemy carried the day.

It will be endlessly interesting watching David trying to reform public services with Nick Brown trying to stop him.

PS: Am I right in thinking the Speaker is going a little more softly on noisy Tories? He praised Bill Cash the other day for his "26 years" in the House. Bill Cash purred with pleasure. How ineffably strange MPs are.

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