AT the end of last week, The Northern Echo asked the question: Where has Ed Miliband been while the Coalition has been busily shooting itself in the foot?

Now we know – he’s been practising his leader’s speech to the point at which he may finally be viewed as a future prime minister.

Up to now, the country has been far from sure about Mr Miliband and, privately at least, neither has his party.

Labour has enjoyed a healthy lead over the Tories in the polls but Mr Miliband’s personal rating has been a nagging worry.

That may now change after a very human, confident speech at the party conference yesterday.

Without notes, he spoke for more than an hour in a bid to snatch the middle ground from David Cameron, and the signs are that it has gone down well.

In truth, there wasn’t much substance in terms of forthcoming policies.

But, with an unpredictable economy, there is plenty of time for detailed manifestos – yesterday was all about changing the country’s perception of Ed Miliband the person.

No one should get carried away.

One successful speech will not give Mr Miliband the key to 10 Downing Street and he has to build on the momentum.

But for the first time, he has the look of a potential prime minister, rather than the wrong brother.

And that will come as a huge relief to those who made him their party leader.