THE pressure is mounting on Ed Miliband to prove not just that he can lead Labour to victory but that he can chart an alternative to the present austerity.
The first part of that challenge might be the easiest.
It took Tony Blair just over 1,000 days from his election as Labour leader to turn his party into a Government-in-waiting and enter Downing St with a 179-seat majority.
He was a hare to Mr Miliband’s tortoise. To put it in perspective, it was the Labour leader’s 888th day at the helm of the party on the day of the Eastleigh by-election when Labour finish fourth behind the Conservatives, Ukip and the Liberal Democrats.
If an election was held in July when Mr Miliband will have been leader of the opposition for as long as Mr Blair had the role, it’s hard to imagine him delivering a similar landslide.
The 43-year-old may have been right not to hurl his kitchen sink at Eastleigh. He is playing a longer game and if he just dusted off the 1997 playbook he could perish at the ballot box.
These are wildly different times. Then, the economy was on the up, the country wanted to bring the curtain down on an epic period of Conservative majority rule, and each party had to decide how to spend Treasury cash, not where to make cuts.
If he digs out that old D:Ream CD, plays Things Can Only Get Better and walks out on a conference stage expecting adoration the election campaign will make the inflatable dartboard look like a success.
His signal that a future Labour Government may re-introduce the 10p starting rate of tax made pundits sit up last month, his focus on the “squeezed middle” shows he knows working households feel cash-strapped, and his much stronger speeches and performances at Prime Minister’s Questions show growing confidence.
But on May 7, 2015, will voters trust Mr Miliband and Ed Balls to free the UK economy from debt and put us firmly back on the path to growth?
Will they trust Labour to push forward the necessary changes to education that will allow young people to compete with the whiz-kids of Shanghai, Bangalore and Rio?
Mr Blair, in those pre-Iraq days, also displayed an empathy – often when responding to tragedies – that promised a humane, kinder form of politics which would be tough on crime but restore values of community to Britain.
This widescreen vision of change is what Labour failed to project in Eastleigh. Yes, we need to see a credible economic plan but voters also want a message for the bigger society.