Labour MPs’ attacks on Miliband are ‘political insanity’, warns Blunkett

Ed Miliband with Banner

Labour MPs agitating against Ed Miliband are embarking on a “bout of political insanity” that would inflict immense damage on the party, former home secretary David Blunkett warned on Thursday.

Amid reports that some MPs have approached the chair of the parliamentary Labour party, Dave Watts, to call for a change of leadership, Blunkett joked that the critics should be forced to undertake the citizenship classes he championed as home secretary.

Blunkett told the Guardian: “When you are standing on the edge of a cliff, it is unwise to believe that by jumping you will suddenly learn to fly.

“This bout of political insanity has to stop. If anyone thought that a leadership election concluding in January following a continuing bout of bloodletting would do anything to improve our prospects, I suggest they take an emergency course in citizenship politics.”

He added: “It would also help if those who were most dismissive of the Blairite era now devoted themselves to supporting Ed Miliband, who they purported to support four and a half years ago.”

But the unease in the Labour party was highlighted when Lord Soley, the veteran former chair of the PLP, said that Miliband is not seen as prime ministerial. In a Guardian article, Soley writes: “Obviously, the vision and the sense of direction has to come from the party leader, but it cannot be a one-man band because, as Ed Miliband himself acknowledges, he is not seen as a charismatic potential prime minister. So there has to be a general strategy run both by the leader’s office and the key members of the shadow cabinet.”

Soley’s call for a greater team effort, which was echoed by Blunkett, was heeded by the leadership on Thursday as the shadow cabinet office minister, Lucy Powell, said she was reviewing internal procedures to give shadow ministers greater airtime.

But Soley, who was an MP between 1979 and 2005, highlights deeper concerns when he warns of a complacent approach among some senior Labour figures who assume the party can win in the general election next year because the Tories are split.

Soley writes: “Waiting for the Conservatives to lose is a bad option. They could yet turn things around. They have a survival instinct, and even if we won on the basis that the Tory divisions were too great for them to win, that still leaves an uncomfortable feeling that a Labour government would not have a sense of direction.

“Labour’s problem is not so much its individual policies as the lack of an overall vision and a sense of direction for the country. This is combined with the problem that it is not clear where the responsibility for leadership in the leader’s office lies. Who is in control? Who is directing the strategy and ensuring that everyone (including Ed Miliband) follows it?”

Soley says Labour should outline a vision in which Labour would lead the argument for promoting economic growth while championing UK membership of the EU. He writes: “Without growth, economic policy will always be led by cuts. Without an active growth and jobs policy for the EU, we will struggle to maintain growth in the UK. We can argue that Labour will ‘cut’ spending more fairly but unless and until we get more growth in the economy we will have to continue with cuts.

“This means we have to be outspoken and unequivocal in our support for the EU. Reform, yes but any talk of withdrawal a strong no.”

Soley’s intervention came after Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, warned that Miliband was dragging the Labour party down.

In an echo of the famous declaration by the Labour party general secretary Jim Mortimer on the eve of the 1983 general election that Michael Foot was leader of the party, Harrop told The World at One on BBC Radio 4: “Ed Miliband is the leader and the party needs to collectively get its confidence together and back him, and Ed needs to up his game as well.

“At the moment, Ed is a hindrance to the Labour party’s success, but people are still saying they prefer a Labour government to a Conservative government in the polls and they know that Ed Miliband is the leader. We have looked at how Labour’s polling has fallen over the last year or so and Labour does have serious problems. It has lost many of its own 2010 voters who supported Gordon Brown and are now wondering whether to support Labour again.

“It has to get those sorts of people back. But changing leader at this stage is not going to help in that job.”

Peter Kellner, president of polling company YouGov, said: “For Ed Miliband to fall even fractionally below Nick Clegg – that is disastrous. People don’t see him as prime minister: only 20% think he is up to the job. People think Labour is less competent on the economy than the Conservatives. And yet we have Labour level-pegging in the polls. True, they were 10-12 points ahead a year ago. But it is an open contest because the Conservatives have their problems – being seen as out of touch.”

Powered by article was written by Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, for The Guardian on Thursday 6th November 2014 20.57 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010