The Sketch: Miliband discovers that praise is the best form of attack

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The Independent Online

Chris Huhne has got a bit bloody ponderous all of a sudden, hasn't he? William Hague, speaking for the Foreign Office the day before, was bi-laterally boring. What is it, the dignifying effect of office? They feel themselves relieved of the need to please the mob? But just because you have a 10-year insulation plan and a ministerial car does not mean you also have ancien regime privileges to bore us like 40 kinds of buggery.

Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, was doing the "energy" bit of the Queen's speech. "Energy and the environment are very clear priorities for the Government," he said. The clarity of the environment priority is such that there is no environmental legislation in the Queen's speech. He said next to nothing about nuclear power but wanted to be clear that electricity will constitute a significant part of our energy mix. Cue trumpets. And drumroll because – the building blocks had been put in place. He had a very clear framework. And while we needed a step change, the policy would "stand the test... of time". Those ellipses don't signify missing words but a significant pause to impress the House with the gravity of his words. I take that back – the dots represent a speech that was missing.

There was also a Labour whip wandering around her benches displaying a cleavage the size of two sleeping babies. That commanded more attention than "the gravest threat to mankind" as expressed by the Secretary of State.

Ed Miliband stood up for the Opposition and pointed his quiff at the Government. The front of his hairstyle pokes up like Mary's hair in There's Something About Mary – although almost certainly not for the same reason. It's a little young for him, perhaps, but he gave what young people call a "banging" performance. (Actually I am now informed young people don't use that phrase any more. Apparently they stopped saying that about the time they stopped wearing gelled-up quiffs.)

He gave a leaderly performance, often speaking without notes, and much inhabited by his subject. He was generous in manner, elevated just enough above the partisan scrummage to be dignified and just tainted enough to be interesting. He welcomed Huhne with more compliments than strictly necessary. Congratulated him for putting a wind turbine on the roof of his seven houses (laughter) and declared he wanted to provide "constructive opposition". He has discerned what the Tories never did, that praising parts of the coalition at the expense of the others is far more destabilising than attacking them both.

He then dismantled the Liberal position – strictly, "the three Liberal positions" on nuclear energy, and Chris Huhne's answer was a little too bland to sustain itself under the assault.

E-Mil also came up with a debating response to the coalition description of the scale of the debt crisis. He calls it "the Greek Defence" and "election promises don't matter any more when you can play the Greek Defence". It's about as much economics as the House can handle, and the more effective for its naivety.

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