Glory or one foot on the precipice: the opposition debate and Ed Miliband

One gets the distinct sense that it’s going to be difficult for the party leaders’ debate tonight to be anything other than a triumph or a disaster for Ed Miliband.

With David Cameron and Nick Clegg refusing to take part, the debate gives Mr Miliband the role of senior statesman. It’s an opportunity to show he has the gravitas to be Prime Minister, a question that has been levelled at him throughout his tenure as Labour leader. But it’s of course also fraught with risk. Mr Miliband was perceived performing worse than Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage in the seven-way debate a fortnight ago. And these are two of the leaders with whom he takes the stage tonight.

Mr Miliband may in fact benefit from his experience in the previous debate. He will doubtless be well prepared – and like a sports team (the Boston Red Sox to quote his particular preference) will have had chance to analyse his performance and identify where he can improve. But equally, there is a burden of expectation on him tonight. As the senior figure on stage, it seems almost incumbent upon him to show that he is, in fact, prime ministerial.

One can question the extent to which this debate will affect the eventual electoral outcome. But Mr Miliband cannot afford to miss the opportunity to confound his critics. A successful performance, particularly against those perceived to have done well in previous debates, will challenge perceptions of him, and may influence floating voters unsure of whether they would be willing to see Prime Minister Miliband in Downing Street.