Labour's woes mean the bar is being set ever higher for Miliband's conference speech

The pressure is now on Miliband to deliver policies that, as Andy Burnham put it, "knock the others off the pitch".

For the third weekend running, Labour's woes remain the story. In his Sunday Mirror column, John Prescott declares that the party has "massively failed" to get its message across and reminds everyone how it was a different story when he was manning the shop. He writes: "We always planned well ahead with our news grid and during summer I met every day with my team looking at the stories and messages we were going to deliver...I joked with Tony that our poll rating always went up by the time I finished summer watch."

Elsewhere, Maurice Glasman takes to the Mail on Sunday to deliver his mordant judgement on the party's recent performance: "At the very time when Labour should be showing the way ahead, it gives the impression of not knowing which way to turn. When the Labour battle bus should be revving up, it is parked in a lay-by of introspection."

Then there's Caroline Flint in the Observer, who, in response to Miliband's tanking approval ratings, notes that leaders don't need to be popular for their parties to win elections. She's right. History shows that a well-liked (or, more accurately, less disliked) leader is no guarantee of electoral success. In the final poll before the 1979 election, Jim Callaghan enjoyed a 19-point lead over Margaret Thatcher as "the best prime minister" but that didn't stop the Conservatives winning a majority of 44 seats. Similarly, in the 1970 election, Harold Wilson's personal lead over Ted Heath (a 51% approval rating compared to one of 28% for Heath) didn't prevent Labour suffering a decisive defeat. But it's not necessarily helpful for shadow cabinet ministers to give the impression of being resigned to Miliband's unpopularity.

At the same time, the increasingly impressive Tory attack machine has swung into action again, with Chris Grayling responding to Miliband's cost of living gambit by declaring that "Labour’s borrowing would add an extra £2,960 in debt to every working family in Britain. The more you dig, the more their rhetoric on the cost of living rings hollow." Grayling's economics might be risible (as Keynes's paradox of thrift proves) but his attack, which will form the centrepiece of a new Tory offensive this week, is a reminder that it won't be enough for Labour to tell voters that they're "worse off" under the Conservatives. They'll also need to convince them that they'd be better off under Labour. So long as the opposition continues to lose the economic argument, that remains a formidable challenge.

One consequence of all of this is that the bar is being raised ever higher for Miliband's conference address. Last year, a no notes speech and a politically dexterous slogan ("one nation") was enough to send the lobby away impressed but this time he'll need to announce policies that, as Andy Burnham put it, "knock the others off the pitch". I'm told that the theme of the speech will be living standards, with energy and housing two of the candidates for big announcements. What is certain is that it will need to be a policy strong enough to shift the narrative back in Labour's favour (as Osborne's inheritance tax pledge in 2007 did for the Tories).

Like David Cameron, Miliband is a leader who performs best when his back is against the wall. But as Labour's summer of discontent continues, the task ahead of him is looking increasingly daunting.

Ed Miliband delivers his speech on reforming the Labour-trade union link at The St Bride Foundation in London earlier this week. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Sadiq Khan is probably London's new mayor - what will happen in a Tooting by-election?

There will be a by-election in the new mayor's south London seat.

At the time of writing, Sadiq Khan appears to have a fairly comfortable lead over Zac Goldsmith in the London mayoral election. Which means (at least) two (quite) interesting things are likely to happen: 1) Sadiq Khan is going to be mayor, and 2) there is going to be a by-election in Tooting.

Unlike the two parliamentary by-elections in Ogmore and Sheffield that Labour won at a canter last night, the south London seat of Tooting is a genuine marginal. The Conservatives have had designs on the seat since at least 2010, when the infamous ‘Tatler Tory’, Mark Clarke, was the party’s candidate. Last May, Khan narrowly increased his majority over the Tories, winning by almost 3,000 votes with a majority of 5.3 per cent. With high house prices pushing London professionals further out towards the suburbs, the seat is gentrifying, making Conservatives more positive about the prospect of taking the seat off Labour. No government has won a by-election from an opposition party since the Conservative Angela Rumbold won Mitcham and Morden from a Labour-SDP defector in June 1982. In a nice parallel, that seat borders Tooting.

Of course, the notion of a Tooting by-election will not come as a shock to local Conservatives, however much hope they invested in a Goldsmith mayoral victory. Unusually, the party’s candidate from the general election, Dan Watkins, an entrepreneur who has lived in the area for 15 years, has continued to campaign in the seat since his defeat, styling himself as the party’s “parliamentary spokesman for Tooting”. It would be a big surprise if Watkins is not re-anointed as the candidate for the by-election.

What of the Labour side? For some months, those on the party’s centre-left have worried with varying degrees of sincerity that Ken Livingstone may see the by-election as a route back into Parliament. Having spent the past two weeks muttering conspiratorially about the relationship between early 20th-Century German Jews and Adolf Hitler before having his Labour membership suspended, that possibility no longer exists.

Other names talked about include: Rex Osborn, leader of the Labour group on Wandsworth Council; Simon Hogg, who is Osborn’s deputy; Rosena Allin-Khan, an emergency medicine doctor who also deputises for Osborn; Will Martindale, who was Labour’s defeated candidate in Battersea last year; and Jayne Lim, who was shortlisted earlier in the year for the Sheffield Brightside selection and used to practise as a doctor at St George’s hospital in Tooting.

One thing that any new Labour MP would have to contend with is the boundary review reporting in 2018, which will reduce the number of London constituencies by 5. This means that a new Tooting MP could quickly find themselves pitched in a selection fight for a new constituency with their neighbours Siobhan McDonagh, who currently holds Mitcham and Morden, and/or Chuka Umunna, who is the MP for Streatham. 

According to the Sunday Times, Labour is planning to hold the by-election as quickly as possible, perhaps even before the EU referendum on June 23rd.

It's also worth noting that, as my colleague Anoosh Chakelian reported in March, George Galloway plans to stand as well.

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.