Editorial: Never mind David, get behind Ed

The speech that Ed Miliband will deliver to Labour's annual conference today is sadly likely to be judged by criteria not only that he cannot meet, but which may not even matter. His predicament is that while his party is outscoring the Conservatives in opinion polls, his personal ratings are consistently below David Cameron's. And the task set for him is to prove he has the mettle to be prime minister.

In many ways, the assignment is an impossible one. Opposition leaders who come across as convincing prime ministers-in-waiting are relatively rare, and Mr Miliband is not going to look like the public's idea of a national leader until such time as he is one. On the platform of the Labour conference, he looks like someone who is attentive and anxious to help, rather than someone accustomed to command. That will not change before the election. Nor will he lose the look which has invited comparison with the Wallace cartoon character.

Are these problems fatal to Labour's cause? And do they mean that the party elected the wrong Miliband brother? The answer to both questions is: not necessarily. Ed Miliband may not have emerged as a political superstar, but he has endured two years in the most difficult job in British politics. In two years of relentless pressure under the public gaze, with no real power, he has made no serious mistakes.

Though elected by the votes of trade union members, Mr Miliband has avoided being a prisoner of union bosses. Though the majority of Labour MPs did not make him their first choice, he has held the parliamentary party together and, compared with both Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg, looks relatively safe from threats from his own side. Soul-searching about whether his brother David would be doing better achieves nothing. To quote an expression much used by politicians, it is time to draw a line and move on.