The Sketch: Not quite a clean bill of health, but Ed's stable

The important thing was the voice. It had lost the pleady, plaintive thing
  • @SimonSketch

Last week, when the Labour leader went into the tea room and his supporters flocked to congratulate him, you might have thought: "That's just cruel." False hope's worse than no hope. Why prolong the pain?

But with their generous instincts, they were able to see the small but significant improvement in their leader's condition – he'd moved from terminal to critical. The rally has been sustained. After yesterday it is clear even to his most devoted persecutors that the Miliband condition has risen to stable. Comfortable even. He's sitting up in bed, taking solid food and receiving visitors. Amazing transformation. The villain who'd been standing on his oxygen tube has been called away, and his saline drip has been fortified with extra salt.

Opinion is divided on the new radiance. More confidence, people say, and maybe that's so. He has fully mastered water-pouring. He now grasps the carafe in a manly way round the bulge and pours confidently away from his body.

He still touches his face, stroking his nose and lip as though watching an internet screen; and after he sits down from having made a telling point on a serious subject, he laughs triumphantly, "I did it! See what I did? That! Look! That was me!" He really must try to remember he is still visible, even though he's sitting down.

But a fair-minded critic admits (and I know because I asked one) that he spoke with confidence, clarity and conciseness. He had good lines. There was enough momentum to carry him over the false steps. All these things are necessary but not sufficient. The important thing was the voice. It had lost the pleady thing. That plaintive "Why won't he listen to me?" quality. Nagging, essentially. He wasn't nagging any more. And he kept control of his face, that many splendoured thing with its diverse assets.

Cameron finished by defending his Health Secretary, saying his career prospects were a lot better than Miliband's. That's probably far less true than Lansley or Cameron would like.