The Sketch: Manners and a fine finish carry the day

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The Independent Online

No really, what was Ed Miliband like in PMQs yesterday? You probably saw more of it than I did, but I was watching through my fingers.

It started so well, with Cameron unable to find room on his front bench – space as tight as inside Dolly Parton's bra. The PM got one modest buttock half-on the bench, half-off. George Osborne sat on William Hague's lap – he was quickly given six square inches to squeeze in. But Danny Alexander was faced with the immovable Ken Clarke. Danny turned to lower himself. Ken still didn't move. Danny turned again, perhaps with some Orcadian suggestion, and Ken Clarke moved.

And so it was that Ed Miliband started with a very decent joke: "The Justice Secretary looked like he was part of the squeezed middle." Cameron replied: "It's because he has what the Leader of the Opposition might not yet have: bottom!" General delight (some gasps).

Ed then started with a pause, and as some barracking filled the void, he extended the pause into a hiatus – he'd lost his way. He stammered out a question in such a way that Cameron gave the cruellest retort I've heard in PMQs. He hadn't quite got the question so he pleasantly invited Ed to "have another go".

And then the rest of Ed's questions join the shower scene in Psycho and the credits sequence of Jaws as something that can't be watched directly.

Cameron's lordly ease is very demoralising for Labour, it's class war but not as they know it. Their traditional weapons are powerless against amused good manners.

Not that you'd accuse the Chancellor of elegance like that. He was having problems with his throat (it was very sunny outside and George's sort have trouble with daylight) but he got through his statement with a number of parliamentary flourishes. If it was a programme of cuts it was leavened with a series of bonuses, increases, and a very decent offer for Equitable Life (considering the political cover was there to abandon them).

Osborne had the best finish of any financial statement since Gordon Brown used his last sentence to reduce the rate of tax by 2p – skewering an opposition forced to reply at once.

Osbo's last words were that Labour had advised 20 per cent cuts. He had listened. He had agreed. His statement made cuts of 19 per cent.

Alan Johnson did very well in the circumstances. In manner and gesture he looked like the leader, and young Ed – making silly Claire Perry type gestures – belonged to the chorus.

Ed Balls's eloquent face deserves a chapter of its own. Botox could make it no more impassive but it said very clearly: "What in the name of our sweet suffering saviour am I doing listening to this effing drivel?"

And when he got up to leave, he pushed past his leader in the narrow space, and never looked at him.

This is all extremely promising.