Labour split over how to win back alienated voters

Ed Miliband, inundated by conflicting advice on how to respond to the party's indifferent European election results, will travel to Thurrock on Tuesday to argue Labour has the solutions that will give Ukip voters a stake in society again.

In the Essex town, where Labour lost control of the council after a Ukip surge, Miliband is expected to reiterate his admission that his party failed in the past to listen to complaints about uncontrolled immigration from the EU.

The Labour leader is facing severe criticism both on and off the record from his MPs, pollsters and commentators over the style of his election campaigns.

Despite a strong performance in London, Labour lagged behind Ukip in the European parliament poll and only just beat the Tories into third place. But his staff insist the party's overall results show it is in a position to win a general election in a year's time.

Miliband is also under pressure to give a bigger role to other members of the shadow cabinet, and to do more to sort out decision-making structures in the leader's office.

His office believes it has put together a set of policies to appeal to Ukip supporters alienated from mainstream politics, but that it still needs to find a way to convince them that Labour will ensure they once again have a stake in the economy.

In a sign of the frustration over the party's response to the results, one senior MP urged Labour to stop the "madness" of senior figures briefing against one another in the wake of the European and local election campaigns.

John Woodcock, MP for Barrow and chair of Progress, the centrist party pressure group, said the election results showed everyone in the party needed to raise their game, but that efforts to blame Labour's performance on individual errors such as how Miliband ate bacon was "a form of madness".

Writing on the Labourlist website, he added: "Concluding that these results stem from a poster, an election broadcast and a badly eaten bacon sandwich risks insulting voters in a way they will not forget. This is a dangerous moment for politics in Britain: it is not the moment to ignore or belittle the angry cry from voters telling us they are deeply sick of politics as usual."Woodcock, who served as a special adviser to Gordon Brown in No 10, said: "Every moment we spend publicly flogging our own lets the Tories off the hook at a time when they are in huge trouble. This is a governing party whose senior MPs are publicly pleading for an electoral pact with a party that has no MPs at all, and being humiliatingly rebuffed. We should be mercilessly exposing this farce instead of assembling the traditional circular firing squad."

Inside the Labour leader's team there is frustration at the anonymous sniping about the quality of the campaign and the wisdom of the strategy. Some of this reflects a simmering rivalry between Douglas Alexander, the election co-ordinator, and Michael Dugher, the shadow cabinet minister responsible for media presentation. But there are also deeper principled questions about how to combat the threat posed by Ukip, and how to ensure the party appeals to its traditional working-class vote.

The former Labour prime minister Tony Blair joined the inquest, saying: "It is right to be worried when a party like Ukip comes first in the European election, it would be foolish not to be. But on the other hand we also have to stand for what is correct and right for the future of Britain in the 21st century.

"When the world is changing so fast, to end up having the debate dominated by anti-immigrant feeling and a desire to get Britain out of Europe, these are not solutions for the 21st century. They might be expressions of anger about what is happening in the world but they are not answers to what is happening in the world."

However, Miliband said Labour would not respond to the Ukip surge by offering a guarantee of an in-out referendum on EU membership in the next parliament if elected. He said Ukip's triumph was not just about Europe but also reflected a deeper unease about Britain, the economy and politics.

Labour is nevertheless facing calls to be more specific on how it would reform Europe and deal with immigration, for instance by ejecting overstayers out of the EU.

Frank Field, a leading Eurosceptic Labour MP, said it was idiotic to suggest the party could head into the next general election without upgrading its offer on a referendum.

He said if there was no change it was equivalent of "sending us over the trenches at the Somme with nothing to fire with". Field said the European results had been catastrophic for Labour, and that Nigel Farage was "an alpha politician that was over-running us".

Miliband stressed Labour had already set out its position on the referendum issue a few months ago and would only back a national in-out vote if a further transfer of powers to Brussels was being proposed. Labour says it is unlikely that such a referendum will be required in the next parliament.

Powered by article was written by Patrick Wintour, for The Guardian on Monday 26th May 2014 19.54 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010