David Cameron and Ed Miliband walk through parliament before the Queen's Speech today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband frames himself as an anti-politician

The Labour leader presented himself as a man with the ambition and imagination to speak for an alienated public.

Labour aides promised in advance that Ed Miliband's response to the Queen's Speech would not be a "traditional" one, and he was true to their word. Rather than delivering a limited and lighthearted reply, Miliband used the occasion to offer a grand and ambitious reflection on the anti-politics mood in the country.

He started with several well-received jokes, including at his own expense. Tory MP Penny Mourdaunt, who opened the debate with a fine and witty speech, "Should try wrestling a bacon sandwich live on national television," he quipped (a line that David Cameron saw fit to recycle in his response). It served as proof that self-deprecation is the modern politician's best form of defence.

In response to the Lib Dems' Annette Brooke, who followed Mourdaunt, he joked: "She voted against tuition fees, has described being in the coalition as 'terrible' and says the Lib Dem record on women MPs is 'dreadful.' By current Lib Dem standards, Mr Speaker, that apparently makes her a staunch loyalist." To further laughter, he added that after the European elections, "She can now boast that 100 per cent of Liberal Democrat MEPs are women."

But the mood soon turned as he warned that the recent elections showed that the Commons faces "A battle for relevance, legitimacy and standing in the eyes of the public." The "zombie parliament" line deployed by Labour this morning was nowhere to be seen; Miliband was striving for higher ground. Rather than addressing his "opponents across the despatch box", he fixed his sights on "an even bigger opponent": the belief among the public that "this House cannot achieve anything at all."

The initial good will towards him dissipated after he seized on interventions by Conservative MPs as exemplars of parliament's failings. He derided the "planted questions" from the government benches - "no wonder people hate politics" - and attacked those "shouting from a sedentary position". After Nigel Farage seized his insurgent crown last month, this was an attempt to claim it back. But if Miliband is to win a hearing, he will need to hold those on his own side to the same standard. Indeed, it took Cameron little time to note in his response that Ed Balls was indulging in exactly the kind of heckling he had denounced. He was also charged with committing the sin that voters loathe most - not giving a straight answer - by refusing to say whether Labour would raise National Insurance.

But the greatest challenge for Miliband is that, to many, he makes a profoundly unconvincing anti-politician. He served in the government expelled by voters just four years ago and has spent his entire career in the confines of Westminster and Whitehall. The rise of Farage has made it even harder for him to avoid being bracketed with Cameron and Clegg as part of the problem, not the solution.

Miliband cannot be accused of not offering answers. After announcing more policy than any opposition leader in recent history, he rattled off the bills that would feature in the first Queen's Speech of a Labour government: a Make Work Pay Bill to restore the link between national growth and family finances; a Banking Bill to increase lending to small businesses; a Community Bill to devolve power from Whitehall; an Immigration Bill "to stop workers being undercut"; a Consumers' Bill to freeze energy prices while the market is reset; a Housing Bill to ease the affordability crisis; and an NHS Bill to halt privatisation and make it easier to see GPs.

Whether he can persuade voters that these promises are no less credible coming from someone who is railing against the system from within, not without, will determine whether he succeeds.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.