As he launched a pledge to win the general election “street by street”, one party source said a poor performance in an area held by Labour under Tony Blair would raise questions about Miliband’s ability to win over centre-ground voters.
The warning came as a series of shadow cabinet ministers rallied round Miliband after party sources confirmed that unease about his leadership had been passed to Dave Watts, the chair of the parliamentary Labour party. Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, declared Miliband was on course to become an “innovative, reforming, radical” prime minister.
The Labour leader wrote in a post on his Facebook page that he would fight the election on a “radical alternative programme for government” drawn up and costed over the past four years.
Miliband wrote: “Labour will fight and win this election street by street, house by house, taking our case to the people on every issue … As we enter the last lap before the general election, Labour will show in towns and cities across Britain that we have a plan to answer the deep problems faced by so many families.
“Over the past four years we have built a radical alternative programme for government which is clear, costed, and concrete.”
Patrick Diamond, a former Downing Street adviser who helped write the 2010 Labour general election manifesto with Miliband, said the party must reach out to voters in middle Britain. Diamond told the Guardian: “Endless speculation about the leadership is utterly self-defeating.
“Labour has to refocus on how it can win the next election. What Labour needs is a message and policies that chime with a broad coalition of voters, one reason why it is essential the party performs well in the Rochester and Strood byelection later this month. The leader should initiate a ‘road to the manifesto’ process – publishing as soon as practical an early draft of the party’s programme for government which can be taken out into the country, debated and discussed with the British people.
“Voters don’t just want to be ‘listened’ to, they want to know Labour has credible and economically responsible policies that can make a difference to their lives and offer them hope.”
Critics know Labour is highly likely to come third in the Rochester and Strood poll, behind Ukip and the Tories. But they are saying the Kent seat, which was largely in Labour hands until 2010 in the slightly different constituency of Medway, should be natural territory for the party if it is hoping to enter government.
They argue Labour, which came second in 2010 with 28% of the vote, needs to secure at least 20% in the byelection. Had the current boundaries been in place at the 2005 election, Labour would have notionally come second on 40% of the vote, according to the UK polling report guide to the 2010 election.
Miliband said Labour had listened to criticism and has changed tack on immigration. “We are also showing how we have learnt from our past. Over four years, I have changed our position on immigration which, although it has benefited our country overall, needs to be controlled and managed.
“I know that when people are anxious about immigration, it is not because of prejudice but because they want fair rules. That is why we will crack down on employers who undercut wages, reform the benefits system so entitlements are earned, and prioritise people learn English when they come here.”
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