Labour critics of Ed Miliband are warning his supporters that they are in danger of exacerbating internal unease about his leadership by attacking party loyalists who say they are reflecting concerns they hear on the doorstep.
As the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock accused the critics of cowardice and a “tendency towards political suicide”, one MP warned of a horrible atmosphere over the “cack-handed” response of Miliband’s team.
Lucy Powell, who was promoted to the shadow cabinet last week to take a key role in Labour’s general election team, highlighted concerns at senior levels of the party when she warned that five days of hostile briefing against Miliband was undermining his authority.
The shadow Cabinet Office minister told Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live: “These things often feed themselves. When you have continuing anonymous stories being floated around that somehow Ed has lost the confidence of his MPs, that feeds a wider concern in the public whether he has the leadership qualities to lead his own party, let alone the country. So that doesn’t help.”
Powell, who said “cowardly” attacks on Miliband would create the worst of all worlds, issued a put-up-or-shut-up challenge to Miliband’s critics. She said: “They are feeding the beast and they are feeding the monster in terms of the press. That is the worst of all worlds – that we continue to have this conversation in this way. So show your colours and put names to quotes or let’s just move on and have a different conversation.”
Caroline Flint, the shadow energy and climate change secretary, acknowledged that some Labour MPs were nervous about the party’s prospects. Flint told the Sunday Politics programme on BBC1: “Some of my colleagues are having jitters. Part of that is that we’ve always said that this is not a done deal, this election. This is going to be hard-fought. We’ve said that from 2010 and Ed has been saying it since he was elected our leader. We have to fight for the right to represent the country in Westminster.”
Lord Kinnock, who faced regular sniping during his nine years as leader of the Labour party between 1983 and 1992, launched a withering attack on Miliband’s critics. He told The World This Weekend on BBC Radio 4: “The so-called threat is certainly not substantial. Not only because all of the sources, so called, of the threat are common in their anonymity and cowardice and their tendency towards political suicide but because there is no real substance in what they are saying. The claims they are making, in so far as you can identify them, are totally unjustifiable because after four years Ed Miliband is a leader of proven courage, of high intelligence. He has a quality of great leadership which is being calm, resilient under fire.”
The strong language from Kinnock upset critics of Miliband who say it is their duty to voice concerns about his leadership amid widespread worries that he is failing to connect with voters. Alistair Darling, the former chancellor, gave voice to some of these concerns when he said that Miliband “needs to show” he is prime ministerial material.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, the former chancellor said: “The best way of dealing with adversity is to lead. If you retreat, if you feel sorry for yourself, if you start mumbling and muttering, your enemies will take advantage of it. The best form of defence is attack. So attack. On all fronts.”
All but a handful of critics believe that Miliband will lead Labour into the general election next year because Alan Johnson, the only candidate who could unite the party, has repeatedly ruled himself out of contention. The former home secretary told the Sunday Times that standing as Labour leader was a “definite no-no”, adding: “We can win with Ed as leader and I can help him do that.”
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former lord chancellor who is in charge of Labour’s preparations for government, said there was “absolutely zero chance” of a change of leader before the election.
The internal critics agreed. But they took issue with the leadership’s response to criticism.
One MP told the Guardian: “Ed risks precipitating the eruption he wants to avoid through the cack-handed way his lieutenants are slagging off MPs who are deeply loyal to their party but can no longer ignore the damage his unpopularity causes on the doorstep. Shouting insults from the bunker is making the situation worse for him – it is alienating MPs who would usually opt for a quiet life.”
Another MP said: “People are concerned about Labour’s standing in the polls and are worried about Ed’s ability to persuade people. But there is no organised coup or plot because there are no alternative candidates.”
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