Ed Miliband invokes British wartime spirit

Is Ed Miliband a Churchill or an Attlee?

That's the question I find myself asking as I arrive at Manchester's Midland Hotel, which Hitler had earmarked as his UK HQ in the event of a Nazi victory.

The Labour leader himself has decided to invoke Britain's wartime spirit at the start of his party conference in the city. His script for a public meeting on Saturday describes our current plight as "an economic emergency" and argues that:

"We will need the same spirit to overcome this crisis as Britain has showed in our gravest moments through history. The same spirit, the same determination, the same sense of national mission that there was as our parents and grandparents rebuilt Britain after the Second World War."

Ed Miliband has taken a brave decision to focus on character rather than policy in his third conference speech. Brave, because the personal polling (including some published helpfully by the Tories) makes pretty grim reading for him. In short, it declares him to be un-prime ministerial.

Stand by then for a speech long on personal narrative - the child of Jewish refugees, the brothers who learnt their values in an extraordinarily political home, the lessons of a privileged upbringing and a state education; long on broad vision - how re-building Britain depends on us really all being "in it together" as we were both in post-war Britain and during the 2012 Olympics; but short on detailed policy.

The Labour leader knows that some of his supporters fear that he may be unsellable and has taken to joking that no spin doctor would have designed a leader like him. There is, though, an inner confidence about the man fuelled by a sense that he's made many more right calls in the last year than his principal opponent.

He may also be recalling that it was the charismatic wartime leader who lost to the man derided for his lack of personality - the man of whom Churchill once joked that "an empty taxi drew up outside 10 Downing Street and Attlee got out".

It was the Labour man, as his successor may well remind us on Tuesday, who built the NHS, strengthened the welfare state and created the Arts Council even at a time when there was "no money left".