The Labour Party came to Manchester full of anticipation about the big result to come, and the result did not let them down. At that moment on Saturday afternoon when it was announced that David Miliband had not been elected as the party’s new leader it was clear that we were witnessing history in the crucible of its creation.  As the non-leader stepped up to the podium to make his non-acceptance speech, you could tell that he had the Labour Party eating out of the palm of his hand. Here, without doubt, was the popular choice.

This though was as nothing compared to the rapturous reception afforded Mr Miliband when he addressed the conference on Monday afternoon – occupying quite naturally the non-leader’s traditional spot in the weekly roster – and told them how proud and pleased he was not to have been given the opportunity to bring Labour back into the promised land. Those of us who had sat through all ten of Gordon Brown’s epic non-leader’s speeches felt that he, the most famous non-leader the world has thus far ever known, had set the bar for the genre at an impossibly high level of brilliance and bite. Mr Miliband, that canny old dog, surprised us all.

Thereafter every part of Mr Miliband’s conference week was bound to be subject to the minutest scrutiny and the most careful interpretation. And what moments there were! The time, for example, when he turned to Harriet Harman, Labour’s matriarch, and told the old bat to stop applauding when some dangerous sentiments about the war in Iraq (in which venture the non-leader had, of course, played a small but glorious, part) were being voiced from the platform.  Or when he called together a hastily convened (but brilliantly choreographed) press conference to announce his first major policy achievement:  a specially-constructed deal with Virgin Trains to get him back to London two days early on his super-saver advance return flexi-bonus rail ticket without him having to pay a penny more! It was then we knew that David Davis, John Redwood, Liam Fox, Charlie Kennedy and the 25 other non-leaders of the coalition are going to have a massive fight on their hands.

Mr Miliband’s masterful decision to head back to the Capital from where to plan his programme for non-leadership was as audacious as it was smart.  The Times surely spoke the truth when it said it was the most significant and symbolic thing a non-leader has done on a train since Vladimir Illyich Lenin turned up at the Finland Station in 1917.  The consequences will surely be profound, not least for Fleet Street’s fashion editors, for whom all leave was cancelled as they rushed to be by the non-leader’s side to report on that shirt.

Who knows though where this story will go next?  The excitement of recent events was well-captured when Ms Harman – apparently betraying no ill-effects of her public dressing down – described the Manchester conference as a “rollercoaster”. She led a chorus of praise for the non-leader’s wisdom and sagacity, describing his cunning plan not to stand for election to the shadow cabinet as “sensible”.  Tribute was also forthcoming from another direction as his younger brother, Edward, called the non-leader’s move “thoughtful and graceful”.


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