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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Mark Sampson's exit leaves the FA still trying to convince itself of its own infallibility

Football's governing body won't be able to repair the damage to its reputation in silence.

By the end, it appeared as if Mark Sampson was weathering the storm.

Despite personal reflections that the uproar and scandal that has surrounded his recent tenure as England women's football manger was taking a toll, he seemed, as of Tuesday night, firmly ensconced in the post he had held since 2013.

Player Eniola Aluko’s claims of bullying and racism against the coach – given little backing from teammates and, on balance, disregarded by consecutive enquiries – remained a persistent story, yet talk of a fresh investigation were trumped in importance by Sampson’s continued presence at training and in the dugout.

The BBC’s occasionally rabid attachment to proceedings gave the saga prolonged oxygen, but when Sampson seemed to retain the FA’s support – taking charge of the Lionesses’ 6-0 win over Russia on Tuesday night – the worst appeared to be over.

With hindsight, the vultures were simply sharpening their talons.

Sampson’s sacking – less than 24 hours after that Russia game – came after a report was unearthed detailing a historic complaint against him from his time coaching Bristol Academy – a job he left to take up the England post.

In what has long become customary, the FA received these claims nearly four years ago yet failed to act definitively – initially concluding that their new coach was “not a safeguarding risk”. However as the recent crisis depended, the full details of these initial accusations were allegedly not revealed to senior leadership.

Confirming Sampson's departure on Wednesday, FA chief executive Martin Glenn carried a pained expression reminiscent of former incumbent Mark Palios, who, in another entry in the annals of great FA crises, resigned in 2004 as a result of an affair with FA secretary Faria Alam.

Glenn will hope that his own head is not sought in the weeks ahead as his conduct throughout the Sampson saga is probed.

It also marks yet another turbulent 12 months for the beleaguered governing body, who almost exactly a year ago to the day, parted company with England men’s coach Sam Allardyce after just a single game in charge – the former Bolton and Sunderland coach getting the bullet as a result of transfer advice offered to undercover journalists.

The Allardyce departure was handled with uncharacteristic efficiency – a symptom, perhaps, of the initial scepticism behind his appointment rather than any particular reflection on his crimes.

With clear-eyed judgement, it is difficult not to have a portion of sympathy for Sampson – who, cleared by those investigations, maintained the very visible backing of his squad – right up until Wednesday’s bitter denouement.

That he’s been paid in full for the three-year contract signed last summer speaks for how soft a line the FA took on the events that forced the sacking – hoping, perhaps, for as quiet an ending as possible for both parties.

Regrettably, for the FA at least, considerable damage to their reputation will not be something they can repair in silence – not in an era where women’s football enjoys such a high profile in the national consciousness and the body continues to mark itself an easy target for criticism. 

The exact contents of those 2014 allegations and that report are sure to be known down the line – non-disclosure agreements willing – but are as of now only conjecture and innuendo.

Without details, it’s difficult to know how hard to judge Sampson. The facts of his performance on the pitch mark him out as having been an accomplished coach. That is no longer the exclusive measure of success.

Detractors will murmur darkly about there being no smoke without fire, while his supporters will point to the unique nature of the job and the often confrontational elements of its duties.

Sampson, at 34, is still a relatively young man and may be able to coach again once the rancour has subsided – although with a reputation severely bloodied, will look on the two-year salary windfall with some gratitude.

Despite Glenn’s insistence that his former manager is “clear to work” in the sport, it’s hard to envisage his career ever resuming in the women’s game.

The FA itself is again left rudderless as it tries to convince itself of its own infallibility. Flabby management structures and the perception of being an antiquated country club – valid or not – will be revisited with relish.

Perhaps positively, it could herald a more honest conversation behind what success looks like for the national game as a whole. Inclusiveness and development of a robust culture are often the first words to disappear from the vocabulary once on field results start to falter.  

For once, the identity of the next coach is not the urgent dilemma facing the FA.

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