Labour leader Ed Miliband has an impossible brief facing him, as he prepares for his party’s annual conference in Liverpool next week.
Years away from a general election he can only talk in broad terms about policies; he has to sit on the fence about the legitimacy of strike action as his union paymasters square up to a confrontation with the Government on November 30th; and he has to look like a prime minister in waiting to the electorate.
The last of these is the most difficult. He’s been a year in the job and made little headway.
To be charitable he made hay of the News of the World hacking scandal. But it was a gift. The Murdochs didn’t have him in their pocket because they scented a loser. So he was free to lambaste the Tories. Let’s gloss over his opportunistic call for Ken Clarke’s head when the Justice secretary mis-spoke about rape.
Miliband has poor presentational skills. Recent polls give Labour a lead over the Tories. But prime minister and former PR man David Cameron - for all the Coalition’s problems - is judged more competent than Miliband, indeed half of those who voted Labour last time round can’t see him as PM.
There was nothing in a long interview he gave to the current New Statesman to give heart to Labour supporters.
“Ripping up the rule book” is apparently his latest mantra. “We’re in a moment when we need to take a step back and think hang on, where is society going? Where is our economy going?” he said.
It’s nonsense to suggest, as I read somewhere, that Miliband has to make the speech of his life on Tuesday. He doesn’t and he won’t. There isn’t likely to be an election until 2015 and there’s no alternative leader on the horizon. Certainly not brother David, whose main claim to fame is he was shafted by his brother.
“I’ve got to show what makes me tick,” is how Ed summed the challenge for next week; and that’s about right.
We’ll all know when Ed Miliband is serious about leading this country, he’ll dump Ed Balls as shadow Chancellor, a man who will forever be associated with the missed opportunities of the last Labour government.