It hardly seems five minutes since MPs returned from their summer break and now they are off again, this time to prepare for party conference season.

In Keir Starmer’s case that meant a visit to The Hague last week to talk about migration. Over the weekend he was in Canada with fellow left-of-centre party leaders, and on Tuesday he is in France for a meeting with President Macron.

Downing Street has played down the meeting with the French president, saying it was “not unusual” for opposition leaders to meet world leaders. But his presence in Paris ahead of King Charles, who begins a state visit to France the next day, makes the Labour leader look like a prime minister in waiting. He could do with the boost, with polls consistently showing voters are more keen on the party than its leader.

Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips caught up with Starmer in Montreal. He dismissed as “complete garbage” Conservative claims that Labour would increase the number of migrants coming to the UK by taking part in an EU-wide quota scheme.

Phillips opted to end the interview on a lighter note, reminding Sir Keir that Commons leader Penny Mordaunt had compared him to “Beach Ken” of Barbie movie fame.

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Starmer responded: “When a government has completely run out of energy and ideas and the ability to shape or change anything, they go down this rabbit hole of ridiculous insults. It’s water off a duck’s back to me."

Phillips’ panel of commentators was unimpressed. “A funnier politician would have a funnier answer,” said one.

Yet the odd zinger at Prime Minister’s Questions aside, Starmer doesn’t want to be seen as funny. Seriousness is his unique selling point, and anyone expecting anything different is going to be disappointed.

The same goes for Pat McFadden, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was a guest on BBC1’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. The MP for Wolverhampton South East, a Scot, prides himself on being a master of discretion. Headlines are the last thing he wants from an interview.

It is because he is such a safe pair of hands that he is not invited on to programmes as often as some of his colleagues. This, in turn, only adds to the intrigue for some.

Kuenssberg was the latest in a long line of interviewers setting out to crack the McFadden facade.

“You’ve been described as the most powerful Labour politician no one has really heard of. Do you think you are?” she asked.

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“I don’t think anybody in opposition is powerful,” said McFadden.

“The point is to change that. In opposition, you can only talk, in government you can do. I don’t mind who has heard of me or not. It’s the notion of somebody being in opposition and powerful I struggle to get.”

As Phillips had attempted with Starmer, Kuenssberg tried a lighter tack. She showed the cover of Labour’s party conference programme - a shot of Starmer staring into the middle distance as if to a brighter future. Where did the inspiration for the design come from?

McFadden did not get where he is today by strolling into traps like that. Sure enough, up pops Labour’s 1997 manifesto with Tony Blair in an identical pose to Starmer.

Kuenssberg said McFadden had worked for both men. What was the difference between the two?

“They are different people for different times is the difference,” said McFadden.

“That sounds like a slogan,” said Kuenssberg. What’s the difference between them as leaders, as bosses? Who is more fun?

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McFadden at least smiled at that. “They are both very good men … What they have in common is maybe more important than the differences - they really want a Labour party that is facing the public rather than talking to itself. That hasn’t always been true in recent years."

By now McFadden was being almost loquacious. “We’ve got our act together considerably since Keir Starmer became leader, he’s changed the focus of the Labour party to look more outward. The question he wants answered at conference is, ‘If not the Tories, then why us?’”

On Kuenssberg's panel was Irvine Welsh. The author , who has a second series of Crime starting on STV Player on Thursday, said people no longer trusted politicians and they were right.

Welsh had a novel idea about how to boost engagement. “I would abolish voting.”

Instead there would be a lottery system in which MPs, and even the Prime Minister, were selected at random. Maybe the Sunday politics shows should try the same tactic with guests.