POLiTICians usually can’t wait to measure the “bounce” they get from the high profile offered by their annual party conference.
It says much about Ed Miliband’s first year as Labour leader that analysts are waiting to see if the party’s stock has risen at all among voters this week – or if the post-conference polls show a decline in popularity.
Early snapshots were unhelpful at best – in one, only 21 per cent said they could see Mr Miliband as Prime Minister. At worst, they were humiliating – one found him to be “weird”, another compared him to a Reliant Robin car, as opposed to David Cameron as a Jaguar.
To be fair to Mr Miliband (and few in the London media are) he did at least emerge from Liverpool with no serious new fractures in the party or indeed with the trade unions.
The question of the “Brother Over The Water” was also kept tightly under wraps. And if Yvette Cooper is the best alternative leader the refuseniks can come up with then Mr Miliband should have much longer to get to grips with his party.
The problem is that at a time when strong opposition is needed in Westminster, Labour has acquired the image – worn for so long by the Tories – as the basket-case party.
The “Red Ed” issue aside, there is also a leadership problem in Scotland, where the candidates to replace Iain Gray are so uninspiring that one contender is an MP and another’s name was embarrassingly forgotten by Mr Miliband yesterday.
MSPs are pinning their hopes on reforms which mean whoever does win the Holyrood race will have more control over the party north of the border.
That might have been plausible with a respected figure like Donald Dewar and a dominant Holyrood group. It is much harder to imagine it working with one of two, thus-far undistinguished, MSPs or a rebel MP as the all-powerful leader of a demoralised Scottish party.
As we report today, there are problems with Labour here in the city too. As if they don’t have enough common enemies, a little local dispute in the Portobello/Craigmillar ward almost saw sitting councillor Maureen Child de-selected after a vote among a paltry 50 activists.
All of which should raise the red flag, all the way up from local group leader Andrew Burns to Mr Miliband: Labour won’t get near a return to power – at the City Chambers, Holyrood or Westminster – without winning back the public’s faith.
That requires unity, or a show of it at least, and policies which speak to the nation’s problems and the concerns of the public at large, rather than a few hundred party faithful during conference season.