Miliband stakes his claim as an international statesman

Ed Miliband talking to Barack Obama at Buckingham Palace in 2011. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/Press Association Images

A "brush-by" is not, you should understand, a "brush-off".

Ed Miliband is getting the former not the latter - insists his advisers - when he arrives at the White House this afternoon.

A "brush-off", of course, would be a disaster.

But instead he will get an informal meeting with the President - protocol dictates that the US Head of State cannot officially receive the Leader of the Opposition from the UK.

So instead, Barack Obama will "drop-in" (or as they prefer here "brush-by") the official meeting Mr Miliband is having with the US National Security Adviser, Susan Rice.

Meeting done. Protocol maintained. Embarrassment avoided.

So why has Ed Miliband come here to Washington DC?

He is following a path which has been trod before, with differing results, by previous UK opposition leaders ahead of an election: Kinnock and Reagan; Blair and Clinton, Cameron and Bush.

The Labour leader has met President Obama before - in London.

But this visit is about fashioning a new image for Mr Miliband for voters at home: one of a potential international statesman.

In ten months time, Mr Miliband could be the new UK Prime Minister - and he needs voters to see him as a national leader in waiting.

The last time a Labour leader came to America to meet the President - things didn't go so well.

Gordon Brown pleaded for a meeting five times in September 2009 - and was granted his "brush-by" in the unglamorous setting of the kitchens of the United Nations building in New York.

That was a humiliating visit - and senior Labour officials (some of whom are on this trip today) still wear the scars.

But given Labour has hired President Obama's former adviser David Axelrod to advise their campaign - the party is confident this particular "brush-by" will happen - and will enable them to claim Ed Miliband is on the path to becoming a world leader himself.